Saturday, July 28, 2012

Advanced Alexandrian Witchcraft - A Wiccan Golden Dawn

I have recently wrote an article stating my opinion that Alex Sanders was a modern day Pagan Magus. I demonstrated, by carefully examining an old documentary, that he was clearly engaged in an experimental approach to witchcraft and magick. He was employing both modern and traditional elements in the crafting his variation of Wicca, but the traditional elements were not part of an ancient pagan tradition. That tradition was taken from a Gardnerian Book of Shadows, but also included the Key of Solomon and the Lemegeton, and it has been shown that most of the Book of Shadows was derived from other various sources (almost all of them modern and accessible to Gerald B. Gardner).

In many ways, Alex was following the footsteps of Old Gerald himself, by incorporating the whole corpus of western occultism into forging a new tradition. What many may not realize is that Alex Sanders did have a goal and a vision for his work, and that he was deliberately attempting to forge a new tradition of pagan religion and magick. He was only partially successful, since he lacked the ability to write and communicate his ideas to a larger audience. Still, as an initiate of the Alexandrian tradition of witchcraft, I was made aware of certain rumors and ideas that had supposedly filtered down from Alex himself, although I have never been able to verify or prove that to be true.

I would like to use this forum to discuss some of those things that I heard, and I believe that I can do this without breaking any of my initiatic oaths, since what was communicated to me was not part of the actual corpus of traditional rites or specific identifying myths and Godnames. I feel that I can discuss something that I had found momentous, even if it didn’t really amount to much more than innuendo and speculation. Still. I found all of that speculation to be quite fascinating and inspiring.

Alexandrians are actually Gardnerians with an additional emphasis on ritual and ceremonial magick, which I believe is what Gardner would have called “High Magic.” Most of the Book of Shadows, its liturgies and other materials, are nearly identical for both Gardnerians and Alexandrians. Some poetic versions of specific liturgical rites are missing, and so is the “Ardanes”, or the Laws of Witchcraft. Both traditions practice their rites skyclad, perform the Great Rite and the Draw, and celebrate a communion rite of cakes and wine. Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches is considered one of a few important sacred books, and the outer court Godhead names of Diana and Aradia are considered important.

It would also appear, if one were to really examine the works of Gerald B. Gardner, that the proclivity for high magic was actually established first by him, even though many Gardnerians in the present time don’t consider it to be important. In many ways the curious tradition of witchcraft as set down by Gardner seems to be more a variant of Italian Stregharia than a proper form of British Witchcraft. Sacral nudity and an emphasis on the Great Rite would seem to be particular to Gardnerian and Alexandrian witchcraft, but they don’t seem to be as important to other British based traditions of Witchcraft which don’t follow Gardner’s foundational praxis. I have often wondered about this stark difference, and I suspect that there might be more to the coincidental similarities between Strega and Gardnerian Witchcraft than one might think.

Even so, where Alexandrian and Gardnerian traditions depart from each other is the obvious incorporation of the Golden Dawn corpus of the Adeptus Minor. It would seem that some of the Alexandrians were required to learn and master the Golden Dawn magical rituals, although this is no longer emphasized. I know that this was required of me in order to receive my second degree initiation, and it may have an important part of the tradition back in the 1970's. I had to take and either perfectly memorize or rewrite variations of the six most basic rituals taught in the four elemental degrees of the Golden Dawn, and particularly, the rituals taught in the beginning Adept grade. I have discussed these six rituals previously, but let me list them here again so that my readers will fully understand what I am talking about.

1. Lesser Banishing and Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram
2. Qabalistic Cross
3. Middle Pillar
4. Superior Pentagram Ritual
5. Lesser and Superior Hexagram Ritual
6. Rose Cross Ritual

What we were taught is how these rituals were to be deployed, but they were often practiced as a distinct corpus from the battery of rituals found in the Book of Shadows. In other words, in order to employ the above rituals in the work of elemental and planetary magic, an Alexandrian witch would have to either omit the basic circle consecration rite, or employ a variation of the Opening and Closing of the Watchtower ritual. It would seem in retrospect that the Golden Dawn ritual of the Watchtower was used by Gerald Gardner to formulate the circle consecration rite, although that rite, as found in the Book of Shadows, is a poor facsimile of the more rigorous and in-depth Golden Dawn Watchtower ritual.

In the recent past, I have had a few experts in the Golden Dawn tradition note the imperfections and erroneous assumptions to be found in the Wiccan circle consecration rite. Despite these imperfections, the ritual appears to work as it was originally conceived. Instead of being used to fashion a domain of warding and protection, it seems to operate as a way of establishing a circle boundary between the sacred inner world of the Gods and the profane outer world of humanity. This is quite a different purpose than what is promoted in the Golden Dawn Watchtower rite, and for some odd reason it seems more in accordance with the ancient pagan practices of establishing and keeping a marked boundary between the sacred ground of the temple precincts and the rest of country.

As I have also stated previously, because of the way that the Wiccan circle consecration rite was written (as opposed to the Golden Dawn Watchtower rite), the focus of the magick performed within the charged circle produced by that rite is one of immersion. Unlike the pristine environment of the Golden Dawn Watchtower rite, the Wiccan circle consecration rite has no boundaries or protections against anything that is invoked or evoked within that magick circle complex. The only thing protecting the erstwhile Witch is the obligatory godhead assumption that he or she performs before engaging in the practical work as a part of the individual repertoire of pagan ritual magick.

Because the foundation of Witchcraft magick is so different than what is practiced in western ceremonial magick, I was forced into radically rewriting the above Golden Dawn rituals so that they formed a completely seamless and related system of magick. I have known other practitioners who have either adjusted or differentiated their Wiccan magical foundation in order to practice Golden Dawn magick. Yet for whatever reason, I didn’t ever go through that process, so I never really mastered the Golden Dawn system of magick as it is presented in books and practiced in various Golden Dawn groups. For this reason, I went in a completely different direction, and chose to mutate the basic Golden Dawn rites into a formulation that was amendable to a corpus of Witchcraft magick.

However, the most important device that I incorporated into my newly devised system of magick was the Rose Ankh. If the Rose Cross is the preeminent symbol of the Golden Dawn, then the Rose Ankh would be its polarized opposite. Since I was in the habit of working with polarities as the essential foundation of my magick, then each ritual structure and device would have its equal opposite. Thus, to the Cone of Power (reconfigured into the Pyramid of Power) would be the Spiral Vortex; the Western Gateway of the Underworld would be polarized by the Eastern Gateway of Ascension; the Pentagram would have as its opposite, the Septagram; and the Rose Cross would have the Rose Ankh as its opposite. In each of these situations, a device or a ritual structure could use an obverse and inverted version of itself, such as an inverted pentagram or an inverted Rose Ankh (defined as a special symbol analogous to the regal orb surmounted by a cross). All of these opposites and inversions represent a magical toolkit that uses polarity as its greatest expression of power, and of course, ecstasy is the achievement when polarities are joined together (in emulation of the One).

My first exposure to the Rose Ankh was while I was going through the grades of Alexandrian witchcraft. What I was told by my teachers (and thereby taken with a grain of salt) was that Alex Sanders had as his ultimate goal to produce a system of magick that was analogous to the Golden Dawn. In fact it would have been a Wiccan Golden Dawn whose emphasis would have been on the feminine archetype and the Great Goddess. I was even given a copy of a special Rose Ankh device, which was a close analogue to the Golden Dawn Rose Cross device, when I achieved the third degree. While I am unable to share any of the specifics of that Rose Ankh device, the creative impetus for this new formulation obviously went along with Alex Sander’s vision of a re-established Pagan and Wiccan Golden Dawn. Of course, I found that by drawing the device of the Rose Ankh in the air, it produced a powerful magnetic energy, which is the opposite of what the drawn Rose Cross would produce. Adding the ritual structure of the spiral vortex to the placement of five Rose Ankh devices produces what I have called an invoking vortex, which is a powerful magnetic energy container that can strongly attract and hold spirits within it.

Another interesting bit of speculation has to do with that mysterious initiation rite in Alexandrian Witchcraft known as the Fourth Degree. While most of the Gardnerian based traditions of Witchcraft have only three degrees (the first two were loosely modeled on the Masonic initiations for Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft, and the third was more an honorific), the Alexandrians promoted the possibility of a fourth degree. There is plenty of speculation about the nature of this initiation, and I have even found where a few individuals on the internet have said that the Garnderian tradition used the 4th degree initiation of the O.T.O. for expanding its degree system, and the Alexandrians used the Adeptus Minor initiation of the Golden Dawn. I have found no precedence for this speculation in any of my own personal Alexandrian lore, but I can at least say that there is a skeleton rite for this initiation in the Alexandrian Book of Shadows, which might also be found in some versions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. That skeleton rite has only a basic structure and the mysteries that might have been presented within it are completely omitted, as if to say that they were too sacred to even put in a secret book of spells and liturgy.

Since the Gardnerian system of initiation has only two ordeals and the Great Rite is an honorific, then it would seem that the systems of initiation as found in Masonry, the Golden Dawn and the O.T.O., which have at least three ordeals, are neither contiguous nor comparable to the initiation of Traditional Witchcraft. Yet the outdoor initiation ordeal of the Four Elements which seems to be a specialized trope used by Alex Sanders and his group might be a clue to an ordeal that incorporated the four elemental degrees into the tradition of Witchcraft. This might have been used to prepare an initiate (and not a novice) for the vaunted higher degrees believed to be practiced or conceptualized in the Alexandrian tradition of Witchcraft. As you can see, there are some compelling clues that point to a ceremonial magickal initiatory system in the Alexandrian tradition, but there appears to be little in the way of any hard evidence or actual rites being passed down the various lines (as far as I know).       

In many ways these clues represent a potential system and methodology, but in the end, the Alexandrian tradition over time dropped the emphasis on high magick and became fairly analogous to the Gardnerian tradition. There was even a certain amount of sharing and reconstituting of the traditional lore between both traditions, and many of the new holders of the Alexandrian traditional lines of initiation began to act as conservative preservers of their tradition, and that means that they had become inimical to any kind of change in their lore, supposedly just like their Gardnerian sisters and brothers.

During the last decade there has been a powerful movement of establishing the legitimacy of the various initiatory lineages, and that each and every third degree initiate had to have a proper vouch of some kind in order to be considered a legitimate witch. This obsession with legitimacy is actually quite new to the Alexandrian tradition, and in fact it has completely replaced the fascination and zeal that the tradition once had for experimentation and the discovering of new occult frontiers. I have found this change to be quite disappointing, since unlike some of my fellow practitioners who survived into the 21st century, I took the hints of a merged system of Witchcraft and Pagan Ritual Magick quite seriously. In fact, where Alex Sanders appears to have never realized his ideal of a Wiccan Golden Dawn, and he went on to explore other areas altogether different, I continued to pursue this ideal and I have realized it in the system and methodology of ritual magick that I employ today.

Although what I have developed and produced is decidedly unlike the Golden Dawn in its various rituals, practices and beliefs, I have instead produced a specific system and tradition of magick that has taken many of these rites and practices and brought them into the context of the foundation of traditional Witchcraft. In the rites and ordeals of the Order of the Gnostic Star, you will find that the basic system of Witchcraft magic has been vastly extended and advanced into a system of high magick that has a seamless continuity from the most basic system of Witchcraft and Pagan magick. So it would seem that where Alex Sander’s dream was never realized by himself, in fact it was realized in the system of magick that I have given birth to over the many decades since. I could, therefore, claim to have developed and established a Wiccan Golden Dawn, but I think that I will instead call it by what it has actually become, which is a system of Wiccan and Pagan ritual magick as opposed to ceremonial magick.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NRA and the Sponsorship of Mass Murder

In the wake of the recent Aurora, CO, massacre, where some nut-case armed himself to the teeth and then proceeded to assault a group of innocent people attending a midnight viewing of the new Batman movie, we can feel a tragic grief for the families of those victims. In that terrible melee twelve people, including a young child, were murdered and dozens were wounded. While we attempt to make sense of this obvious mindless butchery of innocent people, it seems like our society is coming apart at the seams.

Why would anyone perpetrate this kind of heinous crime against innocent and unwitting victims? We can at least write off the accused murderer as being completely insane, but the question remains, how did this person acquire the guns and plan this assault when he was so obviously out of his mind? We are told that he was able to legally purchase the guns that he used on the crowd attending the movie, and that with no previous criminal record he was able to carefully plan his attack without anyone being aware of or stopping him from what he was doing. We are just to accept that these kinds of things can happen in a free society that allows its citizens to own and use fire arms. We even have a constitutional amendment that protects this right, but often I find myself wondering who is really being protected and who is willing to be the advocate for the potential victims when someone seeks to kill others using those same legally sanctioned fire arms? The police can hardly be expected do their jobs if the laws seem stacked against them. 

Normally, I don’t like to discuss politics or social issues on my blog. I feel that there are enough political blogs out there to more than adequately reflect each and every opinion and perspective. However, the horror of this attack, occurring almost a year after the massacre in Norway, seems to require some kind of response from me.

The reason why so many people were injured or died in the Aurora attack is because of the weapons used. The accused killer had in his possession and used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, which is a civilian version of the military M-16. In addition, he had a .50 caliber pistol and a semi-automatic shotgun. The AR-15 had attached to it a “drum” magazine with a hundred rounds. That means that the alleged murderer had enormous fire power and killing capability when he entered that theater and started shooting. All of these weapons were legally manufactured and purchased in this country, and they represent a potential menace to one and all.

Until 2004, there was a ban on the legal purchase of assault weapons in this country, but the NRA sponsored politicians who were in power at the time simply allowed that ban to expire. In the present political environment, the NRA has made the discussion of any kind of sensible gun control a kind of third rail that will destroy a politician who would contemplate curtailing certain kinds of guns in this country.

I don’t know about you, but why would anyone either want or need to possess a semi-automatic assault rifle. It can’t be used effectively for hunting or target shooting because such rifles have very poor accuracy at greater distances. An assault rifle is a high velocity smooth bore weapon, which means that the bullet, when discharged, has a tendency to wobble, making it much more destructive when it hits a target. An assault rifle is never used for long distant shooting because it’s a smooth bore gun; it was invented exclusively as an anti-personal weapon, since a wobbling bullet will make a much larger hole when entering a victim. So it would seem that an assault rifle was developed to kill, wound and disable opposing combatants. Like the .45 caliber pistol, an assault rifle was designed to drop the targeted victim in his or her tracks. You might use an assault rifle against a bear to protect yourself in the wilderness, but then in order to successfully hit it, you would have to allow that critter to get a lot closer than most would feel comfortable with. A good hunting rifle would be a much better weapon to use for a long distance kill, if such a weapon was needed.

So it would seem that an assault rifle has one primary purpose; to kill people. Some pundits would say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But I would counter that argument by saying that the number of people that could potentially be killed increases considerably along with the fire power of a given weapon. Had the accused murderer in the Aurora killing used a normal single action hunting rifle or shotgun, then perhaps a lot less people would have been hurt or killed by his action. That, in a nutshell, is my point. Although that would be small comfort to the victims of that massacre, since even one person dying or being injured in such an assault is one too many.

Then there are the alleged gun-nuts who will state that if the people attending the movie had been armed, then the perpetrator wouldn’t have been able to assault so many people. The multiplex theater bans any kind of weapon on its premises, but could you imagine how many more people would have wounded or killed if there had been a gunfight between multiple wielders of fire arms in that theater? The chaos produced by such an exchange would have generated an even bigger massacre since the single assailant was in a target rich environment, while those would-be defenders would have had to acquire and aim their weapons at the perpetrator in the near darkness of the theater with people running everywhere seeking cover.

Some might blame the politicians for not renewing the assault weapons ban and others might accuse the president of being a coward for not trying to push through a reinstatement of this ban. But the NRA has been so successful in stifling any kind of sensible dialog about gun control for obviously lethal human killing weapons that politicians who would consider such a possibility would be open to the full wrath and anti-propaganda efforts of the NRA. In other words, any discussion of gun control is essentially political suicide. In fact, the NRA has been so successful in promoting its version of reality that popular support for any kind of gun control has been somewhat diminished over the last several years.

In fact, the right-wing political fringe has been stating the obvious deceitful talking point that president Obama is interested in somehow outlawing all guns. How he would do this is never stated, but it has produced a veritable boon for the manufacture of guns and ammunition ever since he was elected. There have even been at times reports of shortages of certain calibers of ammunition as the frenzy of buying and stocking has often outpaced the manufacturing and distribution. I find this occurrence to be quite puzzling, since nothing that Obama has ever said would indicate that he contemplates any kind of gun control. In order to outlaw all guns, the Second Amendment to the Constitution would have to be abolished by the passing of another and new amendment - a near impossible feat. Yet I am certain that if Obama could achieve it, he would then at least try to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, but the possibility of that happening in the current political climate is nearly improbable.

While I do support the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, I don’t believe that assault rifles, even if they are semi-automatic, should be allowed to be sold or owned by anyone. These weapons were developed to kill people, and therefore, they shouldn’t be legal. Gun collectors can own fully automatic weapons if they are licensed, but for the rest of the citizens of the U.S., there are more than enough weapons available for hunting or sport. Maybe some day the people of this country will experience one massacre too many and will see the wisdom of banning assault weapons once again. It would also be nice to think that a bit of conscience in the wake of the recent Aurora tragedy would impact both the NRA and the manufacturers of assault weapons, making them realize that they are abetting and supporting the ability of insane killers to murder scores of innocent people. However, I feel that the cynical nature of politics in our country has allowed for a saturation of lethal weapons of mass murder, and that it is only by the grace of fate that more such massacres haven’t yet occurred.

Frater Barrabbas   

Sunday, July 22, 2012

New Normal - An Impoverished Future

Recently, Jason posted a blog article that pretty much said what I have been brooding about for quite some time. What Jason has stated is that the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 has so pounded most people around the world that the new future view is one that is a lot poorer and less bright than it might have been. You can find Jason’s article here. I would like to add some actual figures to this argument to show that he’s correct about his assumptions. The financial situation is not going to improve at some point in the future simply because the amount of wealth that has been vaporized out of the economy recently is so great that it will take a very long time to replace. What this means is that the job market, the real-estate market, and the ability for many to retire early has been irreparably changed, and not for the good. Hunkering down and waiting for the crisis to blow over is actually wishful thinking. The situation for the middle and lower classes isn’t going to improve for many years to come (if it does at all), and we are going to have to adjust our plans to accommodate to that dismal fact.

Let me put some real numbers to Jason’s claim and demonstrate that what he’s saying is absolutely correct! It’s just that many of us haven’t adjusted to this new reality, but looking at the numbers is quite sobering. According to an online article in the Center for American Progress, the U.S. economy between June 2007 and March 2009 lost 19.4 trillion dollars. You can find that article here. According to that article, over 6.4 trillion dollars were lost just in the housing market alone. That’s a lot of money that has disappeared out of the economy in such a short period of time. It is comparable although not quite the same as another crisis endured by my father’s generation, which was the Great Depression. Additionally, not everyone were losers during the recent period of seismic decline, since the really sharp and savvy investors either knew what was coming and prepared for it, or they were bailed out by the government. Some few individuals even made a huge amount money off of the market’s decline. The rest of us little people saw their retirement portfolios diminish profoundly, or lost their jobs and their homes during this terrible time. That much money leaving the market will have very dire and long term effects on all of us who are neither wealthy nor powerfully connected.

Many of the members of the “Boomer” generation won’t be able to retire in their late 50's or early 60's like their parents did because they lost too much of their retirement investments and savings. This will make the competition for jobs even more difficult, since there will be fewer people retiring to make room for the next generation.  For those who became part of the permanently unemployed, the future outlook is extremely bleak. Because vulture capitalists (like Mitt Romney and his ilk) have outsourced and off-shored, and pretty much destroyed, most of the manufacturing infrastructure in the U.S., there aren’t a lot of good paying jobs to soak up this labor surplus. Those who have jobs will take all sorts of abuse and stress, and even have to swallow a reduction of benefits, pay and vacation time just to keep what they have. This scenario will only make the rich even richer, and the rest of us will become nothing more than the unwilling members of the working poor.

What is most amazing about the world that we live in now is that the very wealthy 1% play by a different set of rules that exclude the rest of us, and these rules are rigged to ensure that they remain wealthy and fully empowered. While the average working stiff is lectured about being completely and altruistically ethical and loyal to his or her employers, the ruling class is able to bend or even distort the rules so that they can literally get away with lying, cheating and even legally pillaging what little money or material security the middle class has left. We are living in a plutocracy and a kleptocracy where the rich and powerful call all the shots, and the rest of us are doomed to follow them. The wealthy 1% believe that they are entitled to their role as the petty gods of a rigged economy, and they are given the tools and rules to steal from the rest of us. It would almost seem that they are seeking to enslave us for the sake of a little handshake of gold.

This is a very old story, and one that our great grandparents bitterly experienced well before labor unions and pension funds made work tolerable and retirement possible. Yet the dirty little secret is that we are not completely helpless. What we can do about this growing social problem is to fight back and empower ourselves at their expense. So it would seem that Magick is even more important in this tightening world economic drama, and it can and should be used to help, in whatever way possible, to even the playing field with those who have rigged the system in their favor. As Jason has stated in his article, all of us have at least some creative knack or ability, and we should use that to invent or create something that gives us a boost in these trying and difficult times. If nothing else, this is a time where all of us should be prepared to retool and reinvent ourselves. This is no time to be complacent!

Certainly, not voting for corporatist politicians whatever political party they espouse would be a good start to regaining some power and say in the national discourse. (This is one of the reasons that I have found the whole Republican party to be toxic and completely inimical to the economic interests of the middle class.) So would occasionally joining a massive protest movement that gets a lot of press, decrying the social injustice that economic marginalization has caused the middle class. We don’t have to support the rich who want to rule us as aristocrats, and we can find a certain solidarity in the fact that there are far more of us than there are of them. If many of us who are middle class magicians can find a common cause with each other, then maybe we can start projecting some of our combined magick powers to changing the world from the course that it seems destined to follow. However, since most magicians are rather insular and anarchistic, this is probably just a whim on my part, which will never become realized.

Still, I am making these suggestions because I really see an economic class war already in progress, and we of the middle class are the ones who are being brutalized and marginalized. All we have to do in order to throw a boot into the machine and halt its progress is to just opt out of the system and live by our wits and creative genius. Instead of hunkering down, hoping that things change, or even trying to find common ground with those who would seek to enslave us, we should just adapt and make our lives commercial free and distinct from the rat race that seems about to overcome us. Magick is, I believe, the key to a true spiritual and economic revolution, and I think that our country is long over due for this kind of change.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot Summer Nights - July 2012

So, we are at the threshold of the Dog Days of Summer when the temperature supposedly reaches the highest points for the year. Up here in the Midwestern tundra, summer often has quite a variable of temperature and types of weather. The only month that it has never snowed in Minnesota is July, so that should give you an idea of how variable the weather can be. However, this year, summer came early, and after the deluge of rain that occurred from May through the middle of June, it became extremely hot and humid, with a series of record temperature days being achieved. Thankfully, it did cool down somewhat, but now it’s going back into the extreme levels of temperature recorded earlier.

As far as I am concerned, the climate is certainly demonstrating that extreme weather conditions have now become the norm, due, in no small part, to climate change and the increasing blanket of carbon-dioxide that is covering the earth. While conservative politicians either outrightly deny that climate change is a fact, or they say that it is only an unproven hypothesis, the world is quickly becoming warmer and the weather patterns more extreme. The motivation for this extreme denial of the obvious truth has more to do with short term gain and inherent greed than it has to any open criticism of the scientific process that was used to determine it as fact. Meanwhile, the average folks would rather believe that climate change is a myth or some remote distant future than have to face the fact that the nations of the world need to drastically change their way of acquiring and consuming energy now, since climate change and peak oil are going to have a profound effect on the world whether anyone believes it or not. Facts have a nasty way of intruding on political punditry, but unfortunately the whole world is affected, not just a small minority of wealthy plutocrats.


Summer is usually the time when I don’t do much in regards to magical ordeals or major workings. For me, it’s a time for rest and recreation. I feel that the short duration of warm weather up here is best enjoyed by doing things outside wherever possible. For this reason, I am working on getting my grove completely operational, since some of the artifacts that I had built there previously succumbed to the dry rot endemic to a heavily wooded terrain. I have recently installed two new Stangs (one associated with the Underworld or Death, and the other, Life), and I have also developed an outlier shrine to the goddess “Maid of the Woods.” So with these and related tasks completed, I am preparing for some deeper earth-based workings within that space.

How I approach working magick in a grove is quite different than how I do it in my temple. For one thing, I tend to abandon scripts and elaborate ritual workings altogether for more simple and direct kinds of workings. In the next few weeks, I will seek to re-acquire this space for outdoor pagan worship and extemporaneous magical work. Once I am successfully able to get the grove into a fully functional working environment, I am planning some major workings. Yet due to the extemporaneous nature of these workings, I don’t exactly know what I will be doing just yet. However, I will report and edit some material from my journal into this blog so I can share a little bit of what I have experienced.

I am also planning on generating two more fourfold elemental planetary talismans in the month of August. These will be done on the evening of August 22 and 28 while the moon is waxing towards full. The first evening will be dedicated to the planet Jupiter, and the second, nearly six days later, will be dedicated to the planet Venus. Once these operations are completed, I will have six of the seven planets fully covered by 24 of the 28 talismanic elementals. I wasn’t able to schedule a working for Mars, so that will have wait until later in the autumn or in winter. My reason for skipping Mars is because I couldn't find any of the Mars based Lunar mansions available during the waxing moon. I also didn’t want to invest the inverted power of any of those Martial mansions, since that is what happens when the moon begins to wane.(Inverted forces in talismanic magick are often used as curses, generated during the waning lunar cycle.)

The Jupiter working will have to overcome a bit of a delicate obstacle, namely that my elderly father will be visiting during that week. I am planning on consecrating all of the metal disks and the associated sigils well before he arrives, but the actual working will have to be timed after he has retired for the evening. My father has always been a no-nonsense kind of man, and he finds the occult, metaphysics and anything else that is intangible to the five senses to be false and unreal. My father fought me all during my youth, trying to persuade me, sometimes harshly, that occultism was the occupation of crackpots. He is something of an atheist or perhaps an agnostic, so we are quite opposites when it comes to spiritual, occultic or psychic subjects. Needless to say, I want to avoid offending him with my supposed spurious activities, so I will be quiet and discrete, doing my magick while he sleeps. I’ll have to be quiet since the guest bedroom that he will be using is located on the floor directly above the temple.

My ultimate aim is to have all seven fully charged planetary talismans and use them in conjunction for a working later this winter. I was blown away when I combined all four of these talismans in my own version of the Talismanic Portae Lucis working, so I suspect that being able to harness all seven will be quite a powerful experience. I am truly looking forward to it! I have a ritual entitled the “Septagramic Vortex Gate” and I would like to use the seven talismans as potent materialized markers for the points of the spiral vortex gate, which consists of seven nodes (and eight, if you count the point in the center of the circle).

As far as literary works are concerned, I will be starting to fully edit my sixth book that has the title of “A Pagan Magus” sometime in the next couple of months. Right now, the raw text has around 250 pages, so I will need to condense it down and remove some of the more extraneous text. I will need to also determine the illustrations that I need, and then contact my artist friend and see about paying her to produce them. I will also need a cover, too, but by the end of this year, the book should be ready to pitch to a publisher. I might also consider starting my own publishing house and printing the book in that manner. I haven’t made any decisions yet, but I do feel very good about this work. It contains some of the best commentary that I have yet written on the basics of witchcraft based ritual magick. My audience for this book are individuals who have at least mastered the principles of spell craft and basic Pagan or Wiccan liturgies, and who want to work more advanced rituals without having to abandon their already acquired craft.

My mundane job has become extremely busy, but I am thriving amidst all of the work. It would seem that I am once again redefining myself in regards to my career, and that is something that I have periodically done at strategic moments in my many years in IT. I have found that reinventing myself periodically is vitally important, since it is all too easy to get caught up in rut, and then someday become a victim of periodic reductions of force, or RIFs as we call them. I have a great team that I am working with, and I am getting a lot of positive exposure to corporate managers. I feel lucky that I love the kind of work that I do, and therefore, I find it an enjoyable challenge to invent new solutions to ever more complex problems. 

I must admit that I really enjoy writing scripts and then testing them, going through the frustration of debugging them, and then finally experiencing the joy of successfully completing and implementing them. I guess that makes me something of an IT propeller head, but then I was always a bit of nerd from the very beginning. When I was a kid, only scientists programmed giant room-sized computers, and now, I am just one of many millions of humble IT database professionals. I find it very magical when I create something from nothing but obscure lines of code, so my mundane profession fits my more inner personal occult predilection. Anyway, I will complete this large IT project that I am currently working on by the end of the second week of August, and then it will get quiet again. My focus will shift to taking some time off and also getting some additional training in my field. 

So there’s a lot of things on my schedule for the next couple of months, but most of it consists of enjoying the summer. I want to ride my bike on the many bike trails in Minneapolis, go kayaking on the interlocking city lake system, and take a five day drive to the badlands of South Dakota. There’s plenty to do between now and September, and each day I am reminded about how short the summer is, and that the beginning of winter is just a mere 14 weeks away. That is quite a sobering thought indeed! As for the warm weather and slight lack of rain, I am simply adjusting to it. We are not experiencing the kind of drought that the rest of the country is having to deal with, and it isn’t quite as hot as it has been further south. Our garden is growing quite well, and our tomato plants are about to bear the first fruit of the year (besides the strawberries of June). I am looking forward to spending some idyllic time with friends and in the grove, seeking to plumb once again the mysteries of this great and wonderful earth.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, July 16, 2012

Are Pagan Festivals Dead - Part 3

This is part 3 of a three part series about Pagan Conventions, Pagan Festivals and Intensive Camping Ordeals.

Witch Camp Intensives - Only Serious Adherents Need Apply

Witch Camp is an on-going and rapidly growing type of week long gathering whose focus is facilitating an intensive, ordeal-like experience, where attendees are assisted by mature elders to achieve a transformative experience. This event is nothing like a festival or a convention; it has none of the partying atmosphere or convivial socializing that either a festival or convention has. Yet what it does have is a powerful sense of commitment and a serious desire to push the envelope in regards to practices and beliefs, seeking to evolve and develop them through ecstatic experiences and powerful visionary insights. Gatherings are small, dedicated and committed. They occur at remote locations and small camp grounds where privacy is absolute. Yet Witch Camp is not for everyone, since the physical and psychological requirements are severe; only those who are mobile and in reasonably good health should consider such an ordeal.

The history of Witch Camp is quite fascinating and it hails from the bay area of San Francisco, developed by members of the Reclaiming Craft Collective, a group of individuals whose beliefs and practices are well represented by the writings of Star Hawk. They were zealous guardians of anarchy, pure egalitarianism, steadfast promoters of equality, and they believed in sharing resources, work and practical spiritual knowledge. They did not believe in initiatory degrees, seeing them as boundaries erected by privilege or personal charisma or power, and they couldn’t accept that some can represent or channel the gods or deities while others can’t and need to be guided and led. All are equal, regardless of the amount of experience they have. However, facilitators do take the responsibility of organizing and directing the Witch Camp experience, but they also don’t have any exclusive authority. That authority is only found in the consensus of the collective.

The Reclaiming Collective was a group of women and men in the San Francisco Bay Area which formed in 1978-80, originally an outgrowth of classes in magic taught by Starhawk and Diane Baker. The Collective was a working group which published a quarterly newsletter; organized and led public rituals for the Sabbats, the eight seasonal holidays of the year; and taught classes from a feminist perspective in Magic and Witchcraft, including week-long summer programs which came to be known as Witch Camp.” (See the web based article written by Vibra Willow at this web site.)

While we can forgo the specific details of the Reclaiming Tradition because that is a particular branch of Witchcraft, the idea of Witch Camp as an intensive retreat is compelling and profound. Such an intensive retreat that facilitates an ordeal producing personal transformation has a central and important place in the various types of gatherings and social networks. This is not a new type of gathering, since its roots are shamanic, and spiritual retreats and intensives have been a part of other religious organizations for a very long time. However, it is new amongst witches and pagans.

One of the known problems with the Witch Camp put on by the Reclaiming Tradition is that the intensive retreat espouses the beliefs and practices of reclaiming, which can have a very political and ecological perspective. This political and ecological perspective, although very much in line with reclaiming, doesn’t represent the beliefs of many other traditions of paganism and witchcraft. There have also been claims of aggressive coercion and narrow mindedness associated with these exclusive gatherings, but Witch Camp does reflect the teachings of the reclaiming tradition, so the retreat would be a proving ground for those practices and beliefs. 

Those who would not agree with the basic premises of this tradition would find themselves at odds with how such an intensive retreat is conducted. So for this reason, Witch Camp is probably an event intended for a small minority of practitioners in the larger population of witches and pagans. However, the idea of promoting an intensive retreat is very appealing, since it seems to answer a need that other kinds of gatherings fail to satisfy. So I will use the term Witch Camp to loosely define an intensive retreat that could be organized and assembled for other groups of witches and pagans outside of the Reclaiming Tradition.

So what would a Witch Camp be like? Since I have not had the privilege of attending one of these events, I can use my knowledge of how transformations can be elicited from small groups of individuals, since this represents some of the in-depth knowledge that I have developed over a long period of practice and also from undergoing personal ordeals of one kind or another.

A Witch Camp would consist of a small group of individuals bonded by a desire to achieve personal transformation. There would be experienced and seasoned facilitators who would manage the event, and there would be attendees, who would seek to maximize their understanding and insights regarding their faith. An operational assumption would be that the attendees have some kind of internal psychological barrier that keeps them from achieving greater awareness and deeper spiritual perspectives. They are committed and intensely desire to overcome this barrier and to experience a profound personal breakthrough. The facilitators guide and assist the attendees in achieving this goal and they also take personal responsibility in assisting and taking care of the attendees. In addition, there can be other attendees who have already undergone this ordeal and they can help the facilitators in their tasks. The group as a whole is completely committed to this operation, from beginning to end, but everyone is a volunteer and no one is there except by their own free will. Anyone who desires to end the ordeal prematurely can do so, none are forced to stay.

An intensive retreat would first require a rustic or rugged camp site that would offer few amenities to those attending. It should be remote and perhaps even a little difficult to find, thus affording absolute privacy. Living in this space for an entire week would require that everyone is involved with the tasks of keeping the camp in order. Food preparation would be communal and limited amounts would be offered, although some attendees could opt for fasting (although such a regimen would take them out of doing much in the way of heavy camp work). 

Eating, sleeping and waking up would be regulated by the facilitators, as would the work of acquiring and chopping wood, lighting fires, cooking food and cleaning up. Bathing could be something that is not required daily or might even be a luxury - the more rustic the setting the better the ordeal. Also, abstaining from drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or doing any kind of drugs except those required for one’s health, would also be part of the regimen. This would include behavior and activities that would be out of balance with the objectives associated with the intensive retreat. There would be times required for silence and meditation, and also requirements for performing devotional services, which would occur throughout the day and the long week of activities.

The cost of the event would be shared amongst all of the individuals attending, either facilitators or attendees, so the overall price of everything would be equally divided. This means that a Witch Camp would be expensive to attend, although costs could be negotiated, and work could be substituted for the entry fee (although this might violate the requirement that everyone works, and that one person is no more engaged in camp work than anyone else). If the group is very efficient and frugal, finding ways to make the individual price as affordable as possible, then that would be optimally acceptable to everyone involved. 

Most of the activities that foster transformation in Witch Camp would be psychologically based, seeking to address individual issues head on and attempting to overcome them. Each attendee, and certainly, even the facilitators, would be expected to give up something (usually some habit or personal crutch), confess their errors, admit wrongs and imperfections, and seek to understand themselves in a manner that ordinary life would prohibit.  Much time would be devoted to individuals abasing themselves to their gods and examining their faults and bad behaviors. Stress would be applied by facilitators and assistants on each individual attendee. However, it would be important that everyone retains their dignity and sense of self - no one should be indiscriminately hurt or unfairly picked on. 

The whole purpose of this regimen is to assist individuals in letting down their boundaries, eliminating fears, and letting go of their petty egos. It helps to rid them of false pride and personal self-worth in order for them to be able to achieve a sense of union with the gods, and therein, to be truly and spiritually empowered. The first half of the ordeal would focus on breaking down barriers and eliminating personal illusions, while the second half would focus on identifying with nature and the gods, and seeking to be inspired and empowered selflessly through them. The daily giving of devotions to the gods and the time spent meditating in groups and alone would give the over-all atmosphere of the retreat a potent spiritual perspective. Also, during the entire event, attendees would be subject to the judgement and peer review of their elders. Every vision or experience they have would be offered up for examination and group analysis with no exceptions.

These daily tasks and activities would build to a climax, scheduled (hopefully) to occur in the middle of the allotted period for the retreat. Evenings would be used for ritual work and activities that would aid the attendees in achieving transformation. Being bound, blind folded and led around, lightly scourged, and forced to uncomfortably stand or squat for periods of time could also be part of the regimen. But the main idea is after a climactic ritual in the middle of the week, then a period of rebuilding and positive reinforcement would be actively engaged.

The climactic ritual could be based on the typical archetypal underworld ordeal of divestiture and psychic reduction to one’s essentials, followed by the presentation of mysteries and induction into a fellowship of secret devotees of the gods. As part of this induction, attendees would receive (and also determine for themselves) a new identity and name, and would learn the secret identities of sisters and brothers who had acted as facilitators or assistants. The rest of the week would involve personal empowerment exercises and the sharing of insights and personal teachings - something that would be avoided until after the achievement of the central ordeal.

Roles of facilitator, attendee and assistant, would not be static. Facilitators could return to the event as attendees or assistants, and attendees could become facilitators at a later event. Also, these roles do not grant any privileges nor define any kind of personal power. A facilitator functions under the same requirements for work, study and ritual performance that the attendee also functions under. The event is ruled by consensus, voluntary engagement, equality and everything occurs as a function of pure egalitarianism. The facilitators have the responsibility for the event and they know how it should be run and when activities should be done. They have this responsibility, but they do not have any authority to tell anyone what to do or how to do it. 

Everything is done by those electing to do it, knowing that the whole operation is either successful or fails due to the work and cooperation of everyone. As a sign of this freedom, each evening before bedtime is marked by a community meeting, used to discuss the events of the day, give out accolades for achievements or work well done, discuss any problems or issues, and determine the work for the coming day. No one is taken for granted, and no one is either coerced, bribed or exploited in the individual tasks or overall process of the retreat.

While it is customary at Witch Camps to offer only vegetarian food, this can be determined by the group facilitating the retreat, whether it is in their interests to follow this example or not. I would recommend it, since it would add another regimen to the ordeal, especially for those who are meat eaters or followers of no particular dietary discipline. Since the food is communally prepared, then the times of eating, and the amounts consumed could be controlled. The absence of alcohol, caffeine or any kind of soft drink or junk food would also be a part of this regimen. Groups could consider any kind of alcohol or other substance as a sacrament to be associated strictly with offerings and sharing with the gods, or forgo them entirely. 

Prior to the climactic rite, the amount of food consumed could be marginal or might even involve some fasting. Certainly one could forgo three meals a day, and perhaps reduce it to a light morning breakfast and an afternoon main meal - the evenings would be dedicated exclusively to ritual work. Drinking water would be an exception, and abundant sources of pure water for drinking would be a requirement.

Such a strict ordeal, engaged in voluntarily by facilitators and attendees, and whose every waking minute was focused on the objectives and tasks of obtaining a powerful and ecstatic transformative experience could hardly fail to produce one. These kinds of experiences are very relevant to the practice and building up of the traditions of paganism and witchcraft, since they require individuals to experience the inner domains of spirit and to test the validity of one’s beliefs and assumed traditions. While it is comfortable and pleasant to socialize and party with like minded individuals, it is far more important to push the envelope and learn what is behind the various beliefs and practices that we typically take for granted. An intensive retreat would also be an opportunity for attendees to be examined and constructively judged by their elders and peers, something that never happens during a festival or a convention. We pagans and witches need to develop far deeper insights and perspectives than what has occurred previously, and we need to do this as an ongoing process for many decades into the future.

A Witch Camp is probably the most sustainable types of gathering especially if it is local to the community, but it’s not for everyone. It should also be noted that the nature of egalitarianism, so crucial to such an event as this, cuts through all of the illusions and assumptions that are part of the doctrine of traditional witchcraft, such as that practiced by Gardnerians or Alexandrians. Attendees, whether they are simple first degree witches, non-initiates or self initiated, or a high priestess witch queen are treated equally, and their outside spiritual or mundane personas or roles are left at the boundary of Witch Camp. There can be no associated perks or special considerations for anyone who is either attending or facilitating, for all are treated as equals. 

This fact might be undesirable for some who belong to a traditional witchcraft tradition, and they can elect to avoid such an event. However, such an avoidance speaks volumes to one’s commitment for building and evolving the newly derived earth-base spiritual traditions. Those who choose not to grow or evolve their faith will certainly end up left behind, and Witch Camp is one such type of gathering that aids this growing and evolving.

(For a list of active Witch Camps, see the website located here. I would also advise interested parties to be aware of the fact that these intensive retreats are part of the Reclaiming Tradition. If that isn’t your cup of tea, then attending an existing Witch Camp may not be an option. )


We have examined the various types of gatherings that witches and pagans can attend, and we have also looked at them in regards to relevancy, sustainability, and examined their virtues and failings. While it is certainly not my place to either recommend or denigrate any type or specific gathering, it seems evident that seasonal and annual local pagan festivals, along with associated witch camps and intensive retreats, are the most likely candidates for the future of our spiritual movement. 

Large regional festivals and conventions probably face a limited future, and will not be likely to persist in the decades ahead, what with the impact of limited resources and the necessity to adapt to changing times. Large gatherings may be more likely to occur once a decade, if at all. Local organizations and events are much more sustainable and these will likely persist and flourish in the future. Yet the most profound kind of gathering will be the intensive retreat, called Witch Camp by some, and perhaps spawning many variations in the future, each established for different regional areas and different traditions, practices and beliefs. It is my opinion that the future of our spiritual movement will be shaped not by social gatherings or even by individual groups or covens, but by intensive retreats that will give a level of spiritual authenticity to our beliefs and practices which normal activities and engagements fail to offer.

The future of wicca and paganism will be forged in variations on Witch Camps, and from them new traditions, beliefs and practices will be established. This is my theory and my belief, but only the future will reveal whether or not I am accurate in my prognostications.   

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, July 13, 2012

Are Pagan Festivals Dead? - Part 2

This is part two of a three part series on Pagan Conventions, Festivals and Intensive ordeals.

The Pagan Festival

The other model for pagan gatherings was oddly based on the rock concert, most notably, Woodstock. This is a gathering that occurs at an outdoor location and is fully immersed in nature, usually a campground. But unlike Woodstock, it’s not a highly publicized event that attracts a multitude of individuals who have nothing in common but a love of music and partying. This type of gathering is called a pagan festival, and because it’s generally easy to organize and inexpensive to put together, it has become the most common sort of pagan gathering. The one main difference between a pagan festival and a pagan convention is that a festival is held outside in nature, allowing the attendees to commune with all the vicissitudes that nature has to offer - the good and the bad. 

Anyone who has attended a pagan festival will happily remember the times of optimal weather when mother nature appeared to cooperate with the camping pagans. Yet there is also the hardships brought about by having to endure bad weather, like violent summer rain storms, sweltering humidity and a plethora of bugs (chiggers, no-see-ums), flies, mosquitoes and the varieties of poison ivy, oak and sumac.  However, a gathering of Pagans and Wiccans at a pagan festival will enjoy and endure both the good weather and the bad in a kind of communal egalitarianism. Some may bring campers and trailers, others, tents, and some may even sleep in their vehicles. Certainly, a pagan festival is more intimate, secluded and exposed to nature in a way that a pagan convention is not.

Like a pagan convention, a pagan festival has its pros and cons. The pros are that it’s relatively cheap and easy to organize and put together. It can be open to the general public or it can be kept exclusive by invitation only, requiring new attendees to be vouched for by previously known attendees. It’s more sequestered and private, since it is being held at a campground or a piece of land in the open country. If the campground or piece of land is esthetically pleasing and has inspiring locations and vistas, then it can shape the gathering and offer even greater esthetic appeal.

The pagan festival is also relatively inexpensive for those attending, since they are usually responsible for feeding themselves and seeing to their needs for the duration of the event. There is a sense of shared and communal living space, potluck repasts, the sharing of drink and good cheer near a roaring fire. There is also a high degree of cooperation between the attendees and the staff, since everyone is required to take responsibility for themselves and their group, functioning as a key part of the temporary community. There is greater intimacy, privacy from the general public, and the attendees can be much more engaged in group rituals, dancing around the fire or circle, and partying. Nudity and being scantily clad is more tolerated and everyone is closer, at least temporarily, to nature (whether they want to or not).

Pagan festivals create a sense of community, as if the camp ground has become a temporary pagan village, which is something that the pagan convention is unable to achieve. Pagan festivals can also last much longer than a pagan convention, often a week or even more, which is plenty of time for folks to get to know each other and forge a community. Pagan festivals can be theme driven and even sponsor big name authors, musicians or regional spiritual leaders, although there are usually a lot of quality local talent facilitating workshops and rituals as well.

The cons are also quite formidable. Not everyone is able and willing to camp and some have medical issues that would preclude them from attending. Camp grounds usually have insurance requirements, but private land typically doesn’t have insurance and the organization must purchase it at a fairly high cost. Some individuals need to be designated as temporary medical staff in case of an emergency, and there has to be some kind of communication service to call in an ambulance if needed or to get someone to the nearest medical facility.

Choosing a good camp ground that has all of the needed amenities is not easy and getting that camp ground for the exclusive use of that scheduled period of time is also difficult. Selecting the duration of the pagan festival is also key, since it can last anywhere from around four days to a week or more, and the longer it is, the more expensive it will be to host it. If a camp ground has bathing facilities (shower stalls and sinks), toilets, access to commercial ice, a communal dining area, locations for workshops and large gatherings which can be accommodated rain or shine, then it could be considered fairly optimal. An optimal camp ground will ensure that a pagan festival will be successful, even if the staff and the organization putting it on are fairly incompetent. However, a bad camp ground will adversely affect or even wreck a gathering no matter how good the organization is that’s running it.

I can distinctly remember camping at a camp ground where the top soil had been bulldozed off of the site and piled in mounds on the outside of the camping area. One of those mounds was located in the middle of the camp ground near the designated ritual area. That was the infamous pagan festival known as Pan Pagan 1981, and it became an example of how a pagan festival can profoundly fail. Unbeknownst to the planning staff, the owners of the camp ground had the idea that it would be good to put down some new turf or perhaps even grow some nice grass instead of the weedy field that it had been. They started this project late and then never got around to completing it before the event started. So we had to set up our camp on the bare earth, which wasn’t too bad, except that it later rained for a whole day in the middle of the festival. This had the effect of turning the camp ground area into a treacherous mire. Some even had their tents swept away in the temporary rivers of mud that had formed. It was, in a word, a disaster, and even more ironic, it was an ecological disaster!

Pagan festivals can be open or closed to the general public. They can gather together as many as a thousand attendees, like the Pagan Spirit Gathering, or they can be closed and only allow a hundred or two, like the former Avalon Elders’ Revel. The larger the festival, the more taxing it is on the camp ground, resources and staff members who are responsible for its orderly function. The better camp ground will keep the staff from being burned out and the poorer camp ground will exhaust them and nearly everyone else who attends. A smaller pagan festival is more manageable, but may have resource issues in regards to renting the campsite and ensuring that there are adequate facilities, not to mention the fact that there are less staff members. Of course all of these issues can be overcome, and even problems can be overlooked if the attendees manage to have a good time despite logistical problems.

The biggest issue with the pagan festival is that folks have to drive to the site and they have to bring whatever they need with them or at least have enough money to purchase what they need. Local pagan festivals seem more efficient and draw just local attendees, many of whom already know each other. The resources required to get to the site and back home again are also not too steep. Large pagan festivals that are regional can attract attendees from all over the country, but these require a lot more resources and often require many attendees to drive halfway across the country. Camping equipment is heavy and cumbersome, not to mention the equipment needed to cook and eat food, the food stuff itself, camp chairs, first aid supplies, bug spray, special garb, robes, rain coats and boots - the list is almost endless. This would probably preclude most from flying, so it becomes a cross-country drive. If someone is hauling a camper, an RV or even a trailer, the consumption of gas becomes quite a concern. Certainly, these kinds of cross country treks using gas or diesel powered vehicles are likely unsustainable and will ultimately be curtailed by the future high price of fuel. So it is my prediction that the first casualty in the changing times might be the large regional pagan festivals.

Even if the local pagan festival survives, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t, there are some things that they can’t accomplish. Often rituals and workshops have to be open to anyone who wants to attend or the sense of community can be stressed or even violated. Men or women only rites are acceptable and understandable, and even Gardnerian or Feri only rituals could be tolerated as long as they are not excessive. For the rest of the pagan festival venues, some will be taking them really seriously while others will not, and this could be a problem if the planners are thinking of doing anything that is ambitious or cutting-edge.

Also, pagan festivals tend allow anyone to run a workshop or lead a ritual whether or not they have the knowledge or expertise to do so. Egalitarianism does not allow for much peer review, and often individuals who put on bad workshops or rituals are met with smiles and pats on the back, while those who had to suffer through it grit their teeth and quietly grumble to their close friends and associates. For someone to tell the facilitator of a workshop or ritual that what they did was unacceptable or even problematic is to violate the harmonious sense of community. These differences could create rather large rifts between attendees, and the obvious criticisms (if heard) could be perceived as a personal attack on the facilitator, which would be unfortunate and also completely unacceptable.

So the really serious work of performing deep and powerful rituals, ordeals or having substantive discussions on cutting edge issues or topics is likely beyond the scope and range of most local or even regional pagan festivals. It’s also my opinion that such rites, ordeals and discussions should take place and perhaps they even desperately need to take place. But the pagan festival is probably not the venue for such activities, unfortunately. This means that a local pagan festival might not be actually relevant to the Pagan and Wiccan movement as a whole. It could also indicate that some local pagan festivals might eventually fold and stop occurring simply because they have exhausted all of the possible venues that they might be able to provide a community. Still, there is another alternative to the pagan festival, and I will discuss this in the next section.

I would also like to state one other issue in regards to pagan festivals, and that concerns the core staff or facilitators who organize and put together these gatherings. Optimally, these groups are constantly rotating, drawing in new people with new ideas and allowing others who have been involved for some time to gracefully retire and do other things. Such an influx and outflow of individuals would require a very egalitarian organization, and it would also preclude certain individuals from seeking permanent positions of authority and power, especially if the organization was run by consensus.

Usually, organizations that put on pagan festivals are led by individuals who are more authoritarian and set in their ways than what is healthy or good for the gathering or the community. A larger pagan festival requires the group of facilitators to be larger, and that might mitigate the “cult of personality” that can grow up around an individual or individuals who consistently lead a pagan festival gathering. Static organizations that have the same key individuals making all the decisions every year can only be sustainable for a period of time, depending on how open, generous and magnanimous the leader or leaders are to those who might not agree with them on how something should be organized or accomplished.

However, lacking an egalitarian approach to authority and ignoring the needs for consensus building and unity, even the most generous leader or leaders ultimately become petty tyrants, irregardless of how they govern. This, of course, doesn’t even take into consideration the natural effects of exhaustion, running out of ideas and becoming burned out by the process. These natural factors will most likely cause even the best run pagan festival to unravel and fall apart. No one is perfect, but imperfections in static leadership positions tend to become amplified over time, and when the community that makes up the attendees decides that it has had enough, then the pagan festival will dwindle down to only a few dozens of people and become unsustainable.

To recap: pagan festivals have their good points and their bad points. They seem to be sustainable if they are local, but perhaps they are not deeply relevant to the future of Paganism and Wicca. Ultimately, they are social gatherings with some rituals and workshops offered that allow for groups and individuals to exchange ideas and engage in group activities and moderately deep rituals (if they are properly facilitated). They are not places that individuals can go to be examined and evaluated by their peers, challenged spiritually and physically, engage in cutting edge discussions about the issues of the day or experiment with new ways of thinking or performing rituals. Pagan festivals were designed to be community gatherings that promote harmony, positive exchanges and the egalitarian sharing of responsibilities and work. They are meant to be fun, enjoyable and pleasant for a wide group of attendees. While it may be important to have a social venue to connect together all the various individuals in the wider local spiritual community, that importance has its limitations.

So where do individuals go if they want a more substantive or deeper experience than either a pagan convention or a pagan festival? They go to a kind of boot camp or outward-bound type of gathering that caters specifically to their beliefs and their faith, which is an ordeal that was originally derived from the teachings of Star Hawk, Diane Baker and members of the Reclaiming Craft Collective, and they called it ‘Witch Camp”, and this is the third type of gathering.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are Pagan Festivals Dead? - Part 1


One of the most exciting and thrilling experiences that I have ever had was attending a pagan festival for the first time back in the summer of 1980. It was called the Pan Pagan Festival, and it was held at a rather dreary campground in the northwest corner of Indiana. The campground was shared with a Baptist camp revival, which at least was separated by a small lake. Over 500 people showed up for that event, and all of the big names were there. There was Gwyddion Penderwyn, Z. Budapest, Selena Fox, and many other notables as well.

It was my first outing after having escaped from the Coven from Hell and it was my first experience meeting almost every shade of Pagan and Wiccan. I even met a few members of the left hand path and that was quite amazing. Yes, even a few Satanists managed to attend (but don’t tell anyone). I had just graduated from college and for me this whole venue was an incredible experience. I also got to meet some of the best craft friends that I had ever made, so it certainly was a pivotal event for me and I suspect for many others, too. Yet this event wasn’t very ideal as far as pagan festivals go, since it was over crowded, the campsite was right next to the freeway so you heard vehicle traffic at all hours and we had an uneasy peace with the Baptists on the other side of the small lake.

Other festivals and conventions that I have attended since then were certainly better organized and had much better camping or lodging facilities, but this one was my very first pagan festival, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Now that we are living in the early 21st century, there are many gatherings and festivals that happen every year, whether local, regional or even drawing an international crowd. I have even helped found a pagan festival, which is the Heartland Pagan Festival (started in 1986), and I helped to run it for its first few years. Heartland Pagan Festival is still happening today during the Memorial Day weekend, even after 27 years.

So why am I asking such a stupid question, “Are pagan festivals dead?” Obviously, they seem to be thriving and appear nearly everywhere in the country. What a foolish phrase to use as the title of an article about pagan gatherings! However, as Bob Dylan has said, “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and indeed they are changing with a vengeance. There are many factors that are shaping the future in which we will live and they will probably have a profound impact on Pagans and Wiccans being able to assemble in large groups, unless of course, those groups are local and sustainable in the long term.

We should also examine the relevancy of these gatherings so we can look at them more objectively. Back in the seventies and eighties, it was critically important for us to assemble in large gatherings since it was the only way to communicate (outside of writing letters or talking on the telephone), and we were still forging an overall kind of cohesive identity. Sharing ideas and thoughts in an open, free and chaotic manner helped the founders and key members of various Pagan and Wiccan organizations to clarify and develop their traditions. It also helped us as a group to find a common ground and learn to identify with others who were somewhat or even startlingly different. We learned to be tolerant towards a divergence of beliefs and practices and to respect each other. We also learned to fiercely defend our rights to believe and practice our faith as we saw fit. All this occurred as the encroaching and ever popular fundamentalist Christian organizations gained in political power and popularity, starting in the 1980's.

Still, times are indeed changing and the need for such large gatherings may have achieved the upper limit in terms of both usefulness and sustainability.  By usefulness I am saying that merely getting together for what would seem to be mostly a social gathering with sprinkling of some workshops, presentations, rituals, live music and the selling of obscure books and goods may not represent what is really needed or relevant for our growing population of practitioners and followers. By sustainability, I am thinking of the availability of resources to gather together in large regional or even international groups. Traveling by car or plane does impact the environment with pollutants and it also uses up precious resources, namely fossil fuels. These resources will probably become a lot more expensive in the decades ahead.

It would also be smart for us to consider the impact of the internet on inter-faith communications and social gatherings. What this means is that lots of people can communicate and even engage in one-way (email, blogs and pod casts) or even two way voice and/or video conferencing at a fraction of the cost and trouble of actually traveling to a location to meet and exchange ideas. It’s even possible that some future gatherings might become entirely virtual events. Certainly, this technology is already having an impact on how people communicate with one another, and the relative ease and frequency of those communications.

As followers of earth-based spiritual traditions, we should be sensitive to the issues concerning the use of resources and sustainability. What this means is that in the future, it’s very likely that long distance transportation by car or by plane may become quite expensive, making local gatherings or virtual gatherings more financially attractive and sustainable over the long run. So with that being said, we can at least agree that regional and international gatherings are probably going to become more rare or they might even completely disappear in the future, because only those who can afford the transportation costs would be able to attend. We can assume that the cost of transportation will become a limiting factor for gatherings in the future.

These changes are probably going to greatly affect the way we live and what we eat, the location of our homes and how we travel to non-local destinations. When crude oil becomes far less abundant than it is today (and that is indeed a fact we can bank on), it’s going to become too expensive for individuals and small groups to travel by car or plane, and that more energy efficient systems of mass transit will become the norm for most. We will also see a decline in the kinds of foods that we find in the markets today, so that seasonal availability will once again affect what we buy in regards to fruit, vegetables and even meat, as it did when I was child. The world is facing the immanent reality that human population growth and resource consumption will have to drastically change in the next fifty years or we will face catastrophic repercussions.

Our habits and lifestyles in this country will probably start being impacted in the next couple of decades by these events, as it already has in the third world and to some extent, Europe. We are going to have to become much more “greener” in our approach to life and the use of resources. Pollution and greenhouse gases will also have quite an impact on how we live and we will ultimately be forced into using more efficient transportation systems that will produce vastly less levels of pollution than the average car or plane does now. As followers of earth-based spirituality, we should not only be aware of these facts, but actually embrace them and start planning and acting as if those times were already here.

That being said, I would like to discuss a little bit of history with you and examine the different kinds of gatherings that exist today, their possible origins, and what may still be sustainable in the difficult decades ahead. I also want to discuss what I think is really needed in our communities that is lacking, which would help us to mature our spiritual perspectives and practices, because compared to the other world religions, we are very new and just starting to coalesce our spiritual beliefs and practices.

How Gatherings Evolved and the Three Types of Gatherings

We will now consider three types of gatherings that are currently employed in the Pagan and Wiccan communities. This, of course, doesn't include local community gatherings or sectarian gatherings that would occur for a single day or night.

The Pagan Convention

The very first kind of gathering that occurred for pagans and various other kinds of religious groups of that ilk was probably a gathering that was not really intended for them in the first place. That was the Science Fiction convention, which was expanded to include the genre of fantasy writing, and this, of course, brought together science fiction geeks with fans of alternative worlds of magic and wonder. It was also the most frequented watering hole for quite a number of the budding pagan revival groups as well.

Science fiction as a literary body has produced a least one very well known religious organization, and that is Scientology; founded by the science fiction author and occultist, L. Ron Hubbard. (I will forgo talking any more about that topic.) Science fiction and fantasy novels, such as “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein was responsible for the founding of the Church of All Worlds, and Tolkein’s Ring series certainly spawned all sorts of creative endeavors that attempted to bring a degree of reality to stories that were mythic, timeless and enjoyed by many. Scifi Cons, as they are called, spawned other gatherings as well, not to mention the huge following for comics and comic heros (Comicons), Star Trek, and numerous others.

Probably the grand daddy of them all was the electronic consumer convention, which was based on other kinds of gatherings, such as political party conventions.  It’s not surprising then that some of the first gatherings of pagans may have occurred at some of these conventions, and that they naturally would have used the model of the fan or consumer convention as a format for a strictly pagan kind of convention. There are at least a few pagan conventions that happen every year, and these tend to draw a more international audience. They are also less formal and much more public.

The critical element for planning a convention type of gathering is to first find a hotel that will accommodate a large gathering of like minded people. There should be meeting rooms, conference rooms and even large halls for larger congregations of people to enact rituals or musical concerts in a large public setting. It’s also critically important to be able to publicize such an event so that a large group of people will attend, enabling the hotel to book the hotel rooms in advance and make a profit from the gathering. The key is getting enough people together so that the gathering will be able to meet its expenses. This requires a fair commitment up-front to the hosting hotel from those putting on the gathering, and it’s necessary to be able to spread the word so that enough people will attend. 

If a convention doesn’t get enough people, then not only will the organization that attempted to host it probably go broke, but some individuals will likely be responsible for the out-of-pocket unmet costs for the organization, the hotel and any other parties supplying food, vending or other services. So this kind of gathering is risky and is better served in areas with a large population, such as large cities or metro areas.

The pros for such a gathering are numerous, such as providing a safe and comfortable venue for people of like mind to socially meet, network, put on discussion groups, workshops, sell obscure or hard to find products and generally have a good time eating and drinking with fellow Pagans and Witches. Successful conventions are usually located in dense transportation hubs, so they are easily accessible and can accommodate large fluctuations of people coming and going.

The cons for such a gathering are also numerous. First, in order to be sustainable, conventions must attract a large group of people, and that means that anyone in the general public who is willing to pay the entry fee are able to attend. Often, hotels are accommodating more than one gathering or convention at a time, so there is a mix of various attendees and other folks who happen to be there at the same time. Seldom is a hotel exclusively held for a specific convention. Even the largest ones, such as Pantheacon, which is held outside of San Jose near the local airport, have to share some space with outliers. Smaller conventions would have to share resources with individuals who are not into Paganism or Wicca, and who may find the whole event to be annoying or even obnoxious.

Hopefully everyone will be patient, tolerant and get along when rubbing elbows together in the hotel lobbies, hallways and at the local eateries and restaurants; but that doesn’t always occur. There’s always the possibility of some kind of problem developing even between attendees who are supposed to be peacefully meeting and greeting other folks of the same or similar persuasion. Perhaps that’s why Pantheacon bans the carrying of actual weapons or magickal tools on the premises. Large groups also means that there is little privacy and absolutely no control over who attends, not to mention the appearance of the local press and other gawkers or unwanted spectators. These events are also shorter than other kinds of gatherings, typically lasting over a long weekend. This is because hosting a convention that lasted a week or more would be too expensive and couldn’t attract enough people to make it financially feasible.

I suspect that the convention model for gatherings will probably occur for some time in the future, so long as large groups of individuals can afford to travel to regional metropolitan locations. However, certainly the attenuation in fossil fuels and the expenses associated with energy and food consumption will take their toll, and it’s quite possible that conventions will become less attended and eventually fold, particularly pagan conventions. These may even become events that are planned once every few years or even once a decade, ensuring that many people will be able to plan and save up their money to attend. Yet one of the major drawbacks to this kind of gathering is the fact that there isn’t much privacy outside of one’s hotel room. It’s also not a good venue for sharing intimate spiritual experiences and performing deep and involving workings in small groups outside of the privacy of one’s room.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas