Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Kansas City Adventure - Part 1

Here’s another biographical piece, which is all about the time that I lived in Kansas City. That town had a profound effect on my practices of paganism, witchcraft and magick. This is a long biographical piece, so I apologize in advance. Often, biographical details about the founding of an organization can be important to understanding the nature of that organization, and I believe that is the case with this article, which covers some of the details about how the Order of the Gnostic Star was founded back in the 1980's. I will pick up this story in early 1983, when I had managed to get my career in data processing started with an opportune job.

Because the economy was so bad in southeastern Wisconsin in early 1983, I decided to keep the job that I had miraculously acquired and migrate with the company move in June to Kansas City. Since I had been hired in early January of that year as a temporary COBOL programmer for the National Insurance Commissioners organization, I wanted to keep that job and make it permanent. The two primary staff programmers had homes and families in Wisconsin, and they weren’t keen on moving to another part of the country. I was single and ready to engage in my life as a great adventure, and moving to a south Midwestern town seemed like a wonderful opportunity, especially since the company was going to lose both of its permanent DP staff members. I was able to move cheaply and without any complications, so from the standpoint of the company, I was the perfect alternative choice for relocation. My period of being poor, dependent on my parents for support and not having a viable vocation was over. I had passed a milestone, and I was eager for it to begin. So in June 1983, I left my home turf, never to live there again. Behind me were friends and even a troubling love affair, but my ambition dictated that I leave, since there were few other opportunities that were so splendid.

As I prepared for my move to Kansas City, little did I know that I was about to embark on a very significant journey. The people that I were to meet and the things that I would do would leave a lasting legacy in that town as well as establish a foundation for all of my future occult work. It was there that I would found the Order of the Gnostic Star, help to start a coven or two, and establish the tradition of hosting an annual pagan festival. I would also form some of the most important friendships that I had ever had, and see my career go through its more difficult beginnings to become fully established and mainstream. I was leaving behind my failure to form a replacement coven for the Coven From Hell, and admittedly, I found the whole coven business and its leadership hierarchy unsatisfactory, since the lore and practices were too simple and limiting. During the highly and intensely creative period from 1980 through 1983, I had discovered a whole new system of magick and a possible group organization. Although it would be a few years before I would found the Order, the basic structure and occult philosophy of that organization had already been established before I even moved. I had also achieved my desire of gaining an episcopal consecration, so I was spiritually and magically ready for assuming the leadership of a magickal occult group, if such an opportunity presented itself to me.

So it was that in June that I packed my sparse belongings into a U-Haul truck, with generous contributions from friends and family, and with my brother, girl friend and lover, drove the long distance from Hartland, Wisconsin, to Kansas City, Missouri. It was a torturous journey that lasted the whole night and into the dawning light of a new day. We all crashed on the floor of my new apartment located in Gladstone (a northern KCMO suburb), insensibly tired from our arduous trip. After a couple of days of rest and transferring my stuff into the apartment, my brother and my girlfriend departed together in the U-Haul and left me to my new life far from home. I remember weeping at the departure of those closest to me, especially for my obvious temporary relationship with my girlfriend that was now apparently ending. I was alone in this new place, and although that might be intimidating to most people, I saw it as the beginning of a great adventure, even though I had become separated from what had been some very important friends.

Perhaps the most important thing that I achieved was to have my own private home and an extra bedroom reserved for a permanent temple, something that I had previously never had. My last independent residence had been sharing an apartment with my brother, and now, I had my own place. In the near future, I would have other homes where I would share the space with roommates, but this was my first home where I lived alone. It didn’t last, though, since I would have a roommate and friend move in with me before I had lived there a year. I used my time alone very productively, taking up the many rituals that I had been writing during the period of the early 1980's and performing and refining them. During that first year, I had managed to perform many hours and days of ritual work, and had completely tested and established a distinct system of magick. My world at that time consisted of spending many hours at work, or performing many hours of ritual magick in my apartment temple and not much else. It was a truly formative time for me, and it was where I built up a system of magick that covered the transformative initiations of the four Elemental degrees as well as both the fifth and sixth degrees. There were a lot of holes in this system that would be filled in over the next several years, but the basic structure was fully established by this time, and I had fully vetted my new system of magick. What I might not have realized was that I would soon meet individuals who would want to explore and adopt that system of magick, but before that could happen, I had to experience some hard times.

Kansas City had a moderate sized pagan and wiccan community, but most were eclectic and solitaire, and very few had acquired any kind of tradition or training. A few months after I moved there a new occult book store opened up, and it was called the “Magic Lantern,” owned and operated by Mike Nichols. Mike not only operated a shop that sold books and equipment used by magicians, pagans and witches, but he also taught a several week workshop on Witchcraft. Mike used his store as a contact point and clearing house for individuals and groups seeking to find each other, and a large informal group of people became associated with him and his store. I was one of those individuals. I was invited to sit in on his classes (since I was one of the very few trained and initiated witches in town), and later on, I also taught a class or two myself. Through the store I sponsored a group of individuals to form their own coven, and performed a handful of initiations for those who were seeking to run their own covens as legitimate high priestesses. However, I had lost any interest in forming my own coven, so I acted more as an elder, teacher and initiator than a high priest. I desired to work high forms of magick, like invocation and evocation, and that seemed to be far more advanced than what anyone else really wanted to do.

In fact during the first two years of my life in Kansas City, I had been hurt and put down by my old friends and my erstwhile lover, who had convinced me that what I had recently formulated and tested was too advanced and personalized for anyone else to be either interested in or even capable of learning. I found their arguments to be compelling and I believed what they said, perhaps because I had entered a kind of masochistic phase and felt that I needed to be put down. According to them, the new system of magick that I had been deeply and profoundly inspired to develop was only useful to me, and it remained unintelligible to anyone else. This was the reason why I kept to myself and didn’t want to found any covens or act as a high priest. I felt that I had nothing really valuable to give to anyone, since what I valued the most was without value or virtue to anyone else.

I don’t know why my friends made this point so emphatically to me, except to perhaps give me a good kick in the ass and bring me down to earth. Maybe I was a bit arrogant or really self-absorbed in my personal magick, and this is why they rejected what I was doing as relevant to them. However, they couldn’t have been more wrong and misguided if they had told me that I was insane or raving mad. What I was developing was not only relevant, it was highly cutting edge and represented a complete breakthrough in the practice of witchcraft-based ritual magick. What I now know is that they were justifiably concerned about me and what I was doing. They didn’t understand what it was about, but felt that it was taking over my life and making me less sociable and accessible. I was humbled by their harsh criticism, but I also likely took it too far.

Social politics was something that I seemed ill equipped to deal with, whether it was in my circle of friends and acquaintances or with my peers and superiors at work. During the period of time at my job when I had a gifted and creative boss encouraging me (who was also something of a womanizer and a drunk), my career really took off and it seemed as if there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish. But when he quit after two years to become a consultant, he left behind an upset management that found great fault in me. Since they couldn’t touch my old boss, they instead focused their ire on me. I was a useful scapegoat, so they fired me soon after he quit, and I began a long period of being unemployed.

I searched for a job for nearly 18 weeks, and finally, when I was nearly out of money, managed to talk myself into a consulting job. I had to move out of my nice, new, beautiful apartment, which I had previously moved into with my roommate and friend nearly a year before (and who had moved out to live with his girlfriend), and instead moved in with a friend who owned a dilapidated house in Westport. I managed to continue to build my career, but had to look for a new job every year. This period of instability lasted the rest of the decade, and although I managed to get increases in my payroll, it didn’t look particularly great on my resume. From the period of October of 1985 through April 1990, I had four different jobs, but I had made a transition from Data General technology to IBM, and that had greatly increased my marketability. I might have had trouble finding a corporation where I fit in, but my new skill set opened doors that would have otherwise been closed to me.

In 1986, I got tricked into being the main point person for forming the metro area’s first pagan festival. Actually, it was a very important time, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but after a while, it became too much like work. So I passed it on to other folks, and it’s still going on today. I would like to quote from my lecture notes that I gave at the 2010 Heartland Pagan festival, which was the 25th anniversary commemoration of the first one that occurred in 1986.

“It all started on a cool somewhat rainy Sunday, August 18, at Antioch Park by the lake. This was the site of the first Rune Picnic (a local pagan newspaper), one of several to come. I had met both Lane and JoLynne at Mike Nichol’s classes on Modern Witchcraft. Anyway, someone was talking about Pagan Spirit Gathering and how it was so far away, making it unlikely for many of us locals to be able to attend. I dismissed PSG and said, “We should just put together our own pagan festival for the local people.” I believe that JoLynne said rather dryly, ‘Then why don't you do it.’ I was taken aback somewhat, then I remember thinking to myself (which I did out loud), “Yeah, we could do it. It can’t be that hard to put on a festival for maybe two or three nights.” Little did I know that what I was suggesting was actually a lot more difficult than I could possibly have understood, having never done anything that large before.

So the first meeting was scheduled to occur at a woman’s home named Storm Raven, on October 5, 1985, at around 3 pm. Only three people showed up! The next meeting was held at Marilyn’s home a couple of weeks later, and then we had a whole living room full of people - both locally and also a large contingent from Lawrence, KS. The group from Lawrence were heavy Liberal politicos, so they knew about community organizing, and a few of us had attended some pagan festivals in the past, so we bravely faced the logistical odds and got to work. There wasn’t any real organization or official roles, and many of us volunteered our money and labor to make this event happen.

Some of the early logistics that we faced - getting a name for the festival and for our newly formed organization. Finding an acceptable site (this took a lot longer and was a lot more complicated than we realized at first). Getting a P.O. box. Finding our first speakers - a friend and member named Sue contacted and secured her friend (and mentor) Star Hawk to be the first main speaker. We then opted to ask and acquire Isaac Bonewitz as the second main speaker. Isaac was living in the KC area on a temporary basis, so he was pretty easy to recruit. In order to get seed money to finance this operations we had a number of raffles and even hosted a Beltain gathering.

Some disasters - a huge rain storm on Friday night that nearly blew down the main tent (where the vendors and staff held court). The young man in charge of security went on a weekend long drunken binge, so he was not available to handle any security concerns. The person in charge of the feast decided to bail less than two weeks before the festival, so the rest of us had to pull together a menu and prepare it for the gathering (everyone had a hand in it). The food was actually pretty good, but much of it was contained in large black garbage bags and other impromptu containers.

It was blistering hot, but the muddy lake more than made up for it. However, Camp Hammond was really a large field with little or no shelter, and the shower facilities were very poor (one or two functioning outside showers). We relied on a handful of Porta-potties, which became fecund by the end of the event. It was a great first attempt at a festival, with over 275 attendees. ”

So after the minor disasters and also the successes, we planned for the next HPF gathering to occur in 1987. We changed the date to Memorial Day weekend and also the site location, and began a tradition that has been successfully occurring every year since. It was one of the cool things that I did for myself and the community, and it was one of the legacies that I (and others) left behind for others to help deploy or to happily attend.

Back to my story; there was a time during that interlude between the spring of 1986 and the late winter of 1987, when I spent several months living with a man (named Bill) who had recruited me to develop a PC based application. It was a software system  for insurance companies to enter their annual statement information, print it out for publication, and even electronically submit it to the National Association where I had previously worked. During that time I was more focused on my career than on my occult activities, since my boss was also my roommate, and he, being a conservative business man, wouldn’t have understood what I was doing or why. We were the oddest of roommates, where he wore suits and drove around in a Cadillac, I wore jeans and drove around in a subcompact. He was a moderate Republican and admired Ronald Reagan, and I was a left-wing Democrat. There was also around ten years between us, and I am certain that Bill found me just as odd and strange as I found him. But I also liked him and gave his project my maximum effort; but after while, my enthusiasm failed, then Bill finally asked me to go find a job, and then to move away when I could.

Our business venture had seemed plagued by problems and minor catastrophes, and Bill lost the bulk of his fortune attempting to prop up the business. In the end, we both lost interest in attempting to make the business work and complete the software development, so I had to find another job. Then a few weeks later, I moved out of our shared home and into an apartment flat with two other young men, one of whom was eager to help me to house a magickal group based on the Order group that was forming around me.

 That man was a newly found friend named Mark. I was rescued from my difficult situation by Mark, who had also been seeking to be a member of the Order, and we found a nice two story duplex to house our temple. I lived on the bottom floor, which had its own small bathroom and closet style bedroom, but the larger room was where the temple was to be established. The doorway was plugged up with a piece of foam, and therefore, was hermetically sealed from the rest of the flat. Once it was fully furnished, it was truly a grand temple. I used it to perform a lot of personal magick there, as well as group magick with the temple organization. We lived there from 1987 to 1989, when he suddenly decided to move to California to try his luck at being a clay animator. He also told me at the time of our parting that although he had tried to believe in and experience the magick that we performed, he just couldn’t understand or believe that it was real. Of course, this was after we had lived together for almost two years, so it did come as quite a surprise. I suspect that his strident atheistic father (who detested me and my practices) had something to do with Mark’s obvious change of heart, but I never took him to task for that admission. I thanked him for our time together and we went on our separate paths. To this day, I have never heard anything from him since that time.

Getting slightly ahead of myself, I need to relate what happened with this marvelous occult group that formed around me. The actual history of how the Order got its start is an interesting one, and I have told before, but let me re-relate it with more details for your reading pleasure.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas

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