Convocation is a gathering of Mystics, Neo-Pagans, Witches, Shamans, and Alternative Religious groups that takes place during February in the Detroit area. Every year centers on a theme based on one of the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Going in order, this year was The Sun and the catchphrase of the convention was “A Little Illumination Please.” I had not attended Convocation since they moved to their new location at the Doubletree in Dearborn. While I think I will always fondly remember the old hotel, I fell in love with the new one. The Lobby and commons area was gorgeous. It reminded me of a train-station with its big clock on the high wall. My favorite feature was the fountain pond with a waterfall. It was crossed by a bridge. At the bottom of the pond were pennies thrown with wishful thinking. As far as a gathering of Pagans and Mystics is concerned, I think that the Doubletree was quite accommodating. We were checked in by a very friendly, curious girl at the desk, with dark-rimmed glasses and wavy red hair. She was my favorite and was always smiling and ready to help. The rooms were nice and neat, very standard.
The workshop I first attended there was originally a lecture called “Homosexuality in our Magical World.” The original instructors had to drop out so the Convocation planners turned to Matthew Venus of Spiritus Arcanum to moderate the workshop. There were about 10 or more people in attendance, sitting in chairs in a circle, identifying as gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered, and pansexual. We discussed problems such as being queer in a religious community that mostly identifies with fertility cults and a gender binary of “God and Goddess.” This, we resolved, is really a spiritual metaphor describing the Universe at large, both internal and external; as above, so below. We talked about how we as queer people are not only queer, but also willing minorities in the sense that many of us in the “Alternative Religion” group sought it out on our own. In this way, queer pagans hold an interesting space in between spaces.
Just after this workshop was a LGBT meet-and-greet held by Trillium Reclaiming, a branch of the Reclaiming Tradition. We introduced ourselves as a large group, but quickly after that we split off into circles of more familiar faces. While the meet-and-greet went on towards the midnight hours, a group of friends and acquaintances came to know each other better over extremely expensive hotel cocktails before retiring to bed.
It was hard getting to sleep that night because of all the excitement and energy. I maybe slept for a half-hour before we arose to attend our next workshop, a ritual led by Matthew Venus called “Fires of the Phoenix”. Matthew, dressed entirely in white linen, stood in the middle of the room of people, a canvas painted with mysterious symbols before him on the ground. He intoned an incantation to connect with the energy of Heaven & the Underworld, to center them here on Earth. After this, we focused on our breathing, closing our eyes and taking deep breaths, we listened to Matthew’s voice as he guided us on an internal journey. Individually, in our own minds, we crossed a river to a moonlit temple where we offered up herbs and our sorrows to a Phoenix. We merged with that Phoenix as it immolated and turned to ash upon the pyre of the herbs we offered, only to emerge again as a hatchling Phoenix at Sunrise, purified and reborn. I have been led through this ritual meditation by Matthew before, and yet this time was different for me. It had a very large impact upon me, and I can say I felt different after the journey.
The next one I attended was instructed by author, shaman, and activist, Raven Kaldera, who was also one of the wise voices at the queer discussion the night previous. Raven’s class focused on Personal Gnosis, or knowledge gained that cannot be verified as truth from books or the internet. As an example, someone may utilize Copal as an offering of incense when doing a Jupiter Ritual. While Jupiter is not explicitly connected to Copal anywhere, while meditating on the aspects of Jupiter a practioner may have had a strong message to burn Copal. This is why it is called “Personal Gnosis,” or Personal Knowing- it does not come from books or learning.
When practicing religions that communicate with Gods and spirits, it is good to take a moment to discern between what may be the voice of the god and what may be the voice of your “mental sock puppet”, as Raven put it. Working within Norse mythology and traditions, Raven pointed out that he approaches his theology as a “Hard Polytheist”- with absolute literal belief in the existence of and interaction with the Gods of his tradition, just as we might say an Evangelical Christian is a “Hard Theist”. Some people are “Soft” in their spiritual approach, meaning that for some the Gods, spirits and other incorporeal beings they interact with are portions of their psyche, or archetypical symbols empowered through history and culture. With either view, taking time to sort through what you receive spiritually or are inspired to do by an incorporeal source is imperative to spiritual growth.
I would have to say that I recognize Raven Kaldera as an excellent member of our community at large. After encouraging us to debate with that “mental sock-puppet” in our minds to see if it really is “Odin” or whatever God we are attempting to communicate with, Raven spent a lot of time describing the ideal type of leader. Since a focus of the workshop was on Personal Gnosis in a group setting (such as a magical lodge, coven, or study group), Raven went into explicit detail about the responsibilities of the leader in a group that would deal with Personal Gnosis. Raven impressed both myself and my agnostic partner who has his career in Human Resources. My partner said that he would heir Raven Kaldera to handle Human Resources just based upon what he talked about in the workshop.
Another workshop I attended was Temple of Witchcraft Minister Adam Sartwell’s Animal Magick class. He spoke of techniques to connect to animal spirits, meditations and offerings, as well as his own experiences in practicing these techniques. Adam led us through a guided journey twice to meet with a spirit animal. The first time I was seeking resolution for a problem I was facing and was shown an image of a Bald Eagle swooping down to catch a Salmon in it’s talons. I am still trying to work out all the meanings from this particular vision. During the second time, I met with the Fox and he showed me how to run fast in the snow and we merged into one creature. This, I think, was to deepen my connection to the animal spirit I feel closest to.
Later in the evening, we got ready to attend a ritual called “Congress of the Bones,” essentially a ceremony of necromancy. Before your imaginations get too wild with images of bones and candles strewn about, ghosts summoned from their tombs to predict the future or murder the living, allow me to explain. The type of necromancy enacted in the ritual that night was one of communion and love, not supernatural enslavement of ghosts or zombies. As person who has lived through the deaths of too many family members and friends since early childhood, the reverence for my Ancestors and the remembrance of my loved-ones, the work of necromancy is very dear to my heart. In this ritual we called to the Dead, our family and friends, our pets, and our teachers from beyond, to be with us again in an in-between space.
We assembled the circle, chairs were laid out around the perimeter. There were possibly 100 people in attendance, led by author and teacher, Christopher Penczak and his fellow Temple of Witchcraft Ministers Steve Kenson and Adam Sartwell. Upon the central altar table were cups of water, wine, a loaf of bread, and some other offerings given to the spirits of the dead in love. I was asked by Christopher if I would invoke the Primal Mother and Father, our first human ancestors- Eve and Adam, if that is what you call them. I was very honored to accept! Matthew Venus also had an active role in the ritual by summoning the Forgotten Dead- those who are no longer remembered and cared for and those who were lost in war or murder, the lonely ones. Four more people sitting in the cardinal directions volunteered to hail the spirits and summon the elements fire, air, water, and earth from the East, South, West, and North, respectively. Additionally, twelve participants around the circle volunteered to call to members of the Mighty Dead, those who are dead who, in life, did great works and have been elevated spiritually- Saints, Bodhisattva, Heroes, and Ascended Masters.
Joining hands, we proceeded to cast a circle to serve as sacred space, where the supernormal can occur. After the initial rites were performed we sat down, there was a buzz in the air. I was nervous, so I continued to focus on my breathing as we had begun in the casting of the circle. I took a moment of stillness to connect with the energies of First Parents. In my mind’s eye I perceived two figures behind me, a female at my left and a male at my right. Their forms were humanoid, shadowy but defined, there was no clear ethnic origin- my intent was to connect with our earliest Ancestors with whom all people of the Earth share blood with.
When I heard my cue, I left the circle and, although I cannot remember the precise wording, I was inspired to call them in this way: “Maaa! First Mother, giver of Blood, Keeper of the Gate of Life, we invoke your presence in this rite!” and “Paaa! First Father, giver of Bone, Keeper of Seed, we invoke your presence in this rite!” I encircled the altar table in the center of the room where Christopher, Steve, Adam, and Matthew stood, and rejoined the perimeter. I was confident that the summons was effective and that the spiritual presence of the Primal Mother and Father could be felt. I chose to call them by intoning “Ma” and “Pa” because I have found that in many languages around the world, the most basic words to describe “mother” and “father” are commonly “ma” and “pa” or “da”. In this way, I furthered the connection and, in a way, took on the role of the child calling to his parents for love and affection.
During another portion of the ritual, we looked internally to call upon ancestral spirit allies to be with us. I was joined in spirit by my birth father, Michael Andrew Doyle. In my mind’s eye, I was also encircled by numerous scribes, old men and women reaching far back into time; I knew these spirits to be the priests who, throughout history, worked the Art of Magic within the Art of Pen and Word. I understood that they appeared to me because this is part of my work, continuing the tradition of magic as a writer. I will share one more part of my experience, a bit of personal gnosis gained from the necromantic rite. In my mental vision, I was informed by a spirit with a flame on its brow, “The Way is found in Words, Stones, Herbs, and Stars. BUT without the fifth ingredient of the HEART, it is for nothing.”
The other workshop that left a profound impact upon my spirit is one I cannot go into great detail about, precisely because of profundity of that impact and what I heard there. It was taught by Enafae Moore and Auntie Dame, and it was called Step Through Your Looking Glass. Auntie Dame was the teacher of the man I was apprenticed to, Matthew Venus, so because of this connection from Auntie Dame to Matthew to me, I was enthralled to her during this class. Dame has such a great way of teaching a room full of students. Her style is one of humor, honesty, no excuses, no bullshit. She talks about magic and spirituality without apologizing, without trying to water it down or make it sound scientific and rational. Enafae and Dame did visit upon some quantum physics theory, but I get the feeling that the actual work, the experience of magic is more important than cold-hard proof. If you want to practice magic, if you want to live an extraordinary life, if you want to fulfill your potential as a being of light made of star-stuff, you just have to accept it. Dame and Enafae’s workshop was about illuminating your Shadow, accepting who you are, who you think you are, what has happened to you, what you have done, how other people see you and taking that energy, directing it into your Destiny for the better, hopefully not only for your self but for those around you as well.
Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of lunching with Matthew Venus, Auntie Dame, shamanic practitioner Kenn Day, and one of his students before going off to another one of Matthew’s workshops. I was pleased to see that even my elders in the community have a sense of humor and humility! I enjoyed being in the presence of respected teachers like these, to see their humanity and, well, realness. I was humbled and delighted.We finished lunch and parted ways with our hosts to one of the lecture rooms. Matthew taught his class about the history and use of dolls in magic. Ranging from statues made of stone and wood to cloth-and-thread figures stuffed with cotton and herbs, dolls and figurines can be used (and have been used) for both healing and harming magic through out history. Many people think that jabbing a needle into a doll’s heart is solely for the purpose of cursing and hurting the person the doll is representing. What I gathered from Matthew is that the needle could be seen more like the needle used in Acupuncture, which are intended to open channels of energy in the body. When the needle is being jabbed into the doll, it is really all about the intention of the person doing the jabbing. Were the person focusing on sending healing energy into the heart, to help clear out a blockage in the heart or aid spiritually during surgery. In all sorts of magic, what really makes them “good or evil”, “ beneficial or malevolent” is simply the intention of the magician themselves. Although, this concept opens up some philosophical musings that will be visited upon in a later blog post here.
While visiting the Merchant’s room I caught up with Jim Ekhardt of Blackberry Pines Farm, and he invited me to attend the Annual Summer Gathering, held on Lake Michigan this year! I have had the honor of meeting Jim before a few times, a friendly, jovial spirit with a big smile, big beard, and big personality. In times past he has always encouraged me to attend the Annual Summer Gathering and I haven’t for various reasons (excuses). Seeking community now more than ever, I am looking forward to the opportunity to be at the ASG. I’ve never done ritual on the shore before!
As the evening approached, the Convocation crowd was getting more riled up. It was time for the masquerade held every year in a large ballroom in the hotel. Over the evening, the mystics and shamans transformed from (mostly) ordinary-looking people into mythological forms. Faerie babies, demon cowboys, dominatrix goddesses, angelic geisha, and all manner of gender-blenders came together on a dance floor in the Doubletree in Dearborn. Don’t think it was all spiral-dances and cheesy Pagan chanting! You’d be surprised at how… dare I say?…. normal we “freaks” are once you get to know us, and see how bad our dancing is! It was hilarious dancing with this crowd, sometimes to Top 40 remixes, other times to group dances like the Time Warp and the Harlem Shake.
Finally retiring from the commotion of the masquerade, our group found our way back to the hotel room. When we were away from the larger mob of the convention, where the personae we often adopt to interact with unfamiliar people has a little bit more space to fall away, when the true reflection of who we are was able to shine through, those were some of my most cherished moments at Convocation. I learned much from attending workshops, I experienced a lot in rituals and meditations, I gained a new-found sense of who I am and obtained a firmer grasp on the understanding of my power and potential…. and all of these things were transmitted to me through a foundation of community, friendship, and compassion. It reminded me that All You Need Is Love and that the True Magic, The Law of the Universe is Love. This, I believe, was expressed to me in vision during the Congress of the Bones when I received the message from that spirit, “The Way is found in Words, Stones, Herbs, and Stars. BUT without the fifth ingredient of the HEART, it is for nothing.”