PantheaCon 2017: Class Reviews

Ninety percent of my PantheaCon time was spent taking classes (with one ritual and concert thrown in for good measure), so I thought I’d do a review of the ones I attended. Now, if you’re familiar with PantheaCon, you know that this is just a fraction of all that’s on offer, and the program changes every year. So your mileage will definitely vary.

I also have to say that I got something out of every class I attended, and most were very well-presented. The ones I didn’t find as useful or engaging tended to come down to the presenter’s presentation skills: either not being prepared, not having the timing down or letting audience participation get away from them…

That said, here’s the scoop on those I took

Altars for Devotion and Practice
Phoenix LeFae
A
A good class to start the weekend with, Phoenix balanced a talk about the practicalities of altar and shrine building with a hands on activity: creating our own travel altar. Phoenix is a very personable presenter, and she comes from the hoodoo tradition, so her approach was both pretty and practical. She explained the differences between altars (a temporary space for working) and shrines (permanent), and gave a lot of really useful tips for creating our own sacred spaces. Then she gave us each a small tin box and let us loose with craft materials to make our own traveling altar to keep with us during the con. I would definitely take another of Phoenix’ classes.

Honoring Spirits of Place and the Home
Morgan Daimler
B
This was the class that triggered a complete change in my focus for the con, and many of the classes I took later were because of this one. Morgan went into great detail about land spirits: what they are, how to make offerings to them, what to do if they’re angry, etc. I was pretty wrapped up in the idea. Sadly, she had a little bit of trouble managing her time, so the house spirits part of the class was rushed and I had really been looking forward to that part. But still, it was a pretty powerful class for me and I’m very glad I attended.

Working with Water Spirits
Annwyn Avalon

A
I hadn’t intended to take this class (see above), but I’m so glad I did. Annwyn is a water witch with a great depth (see what I did there?) of knowledge in this area. This was a very thorough overview of the types of spirits (mermaids, faery women, kelpies, etc.), ways to work with the spirits, etc. I think if someone were more skilled in water witchcraft, they might feel this was a high-level overview, but I found it very useful.

Tarotpalooza
Thalassa

A
I’ve heard about Thalassa (she’s very well-known in tarot circles) but have never attended one of her workshops. If you are at all interested in the Tarot, and you get a chance to hear her talk, go. Just go. Yes, it was a very interesting and engaging talk about the tarot: the history and meaning behind it, and why it works as well as it does. But Thalassa is a true character: truly funny and charming and real. Great way to spend 90 minutes.

Introducing Runes into Your Practice
Dave Schulz

B-
This was really more of a Runes 101 class than about working runes into your own practice. It also seemed a tad disorganized (I think the crowd was much bigger than Dave expected). I think since I already knew the basics, it actually helped me and I found it a good refresher course.

A Concert with Lon Milo Duquette
Lon Duquette

A
I was convinced to attend this and really enjoyed it. Lon is a true talent, really funny and folksy.

Geomantic Dowsing: Mapping the Earth’s Energies
Adam Sartwell
A+
This was absolutely the best class I attended, hands down. Adam gave so much information on dowsing, Ley lines and how to map the energies of the earth that I spent almost an hour just transcribing the notes. Adam is also a very personable, comfortable presenter. Very, very good class.

Connecting with Your Urban Spirit
Diana Rajchel
C-
I was pretty disappointed by this class, because it was really taken over by the audience, who started playing “Let me show you how much I know” and dragging the presenter off topic. I think it didn’t help that Diana was ill. I ended up leaving 20 minutes early. I did feel, when I transcribed my notes, that I got more out of it than I thought, but I felt like Diana had much more to teach us, so that was disappointing. She is writing a book about Urban Magic, so I’m hoping that will have more of the meat I missed here.

Oracular Seidh
Seidhjaller
A
I wrote about my experience here earlier, so I won’t go into that again. But as an event, this one is top notch. The ambience with the chair and the veiled seeress is powerful, the singing and chanting is primal, and the warders who watch over the crowd are the very best. It can be very emotional and powerful, which is a double edged sword, but as an oracle, this is a unique opportunity.

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PantheaCon 2017 Overview

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After a rough year, I decided it was time to press the reset button on my spiritual life.

What better place to do that than one of the largest pagan gatherings in America: PantheaCon, held annually on President’s Day weekend in San Jose, California.

Despite arriving before the opening ritual on Friday and staying through Sunday evening, there was not enough time to take every class, participate in every ritual and see everyone I wanted to. Still, I took some amazing classes, met up with old friends, rebuilt some old bridges, bought some beautiful handmade witchy crafts from pagan vendors, got a great tarot reading, and made at least one new friend.

The two big experiences of the weekend:

I was given a new spiritual direction.
For weeks, I pored over the PantheaCon program to decide exactly the classes I wanted to take. I built a detailed schedule of panels (a mix of home witchcraft, shamanism and divination) that promptly went out the window on Day One, when I realized I am being led to work with land and elemental spirits.

I ended up taking classes on land and house spirits, mapping earth energies, working with water spirits and doing urban magic. I took a few other classes, but this was definitely the “theme” of the weekend and it has opened up entirely new paths on my spiritual journey.

I had a rough ritual experience.
Every year, the Asatru/Heathen group Seidhjaller (associated with Hrafnar Kindred in California) performs Oracular Seidh at PantheaCon. I’m not the best person to educate on seidh (pronounced, approximately, “say-th“), but it is essentially a form of group oracle where the entire room goes on a shamanic journey with a single seeress, who then answers questions for the group. 

I’ve been involved in Heathenry and worked with Hrafnar in the past (though I no longer truly consider that my path), so I was very familiar with the ritual, songs sung, etc. I hadn’t planned to go, but did so at the last minute. I was, surprisingly, the first called to ask a question.

I explained I’d been fighting cancer for a year, and asked for any advice. The seeress gave me advice about listening to my doctors and not well meaning friends and then asked if I had more questions. I said no and thank you (the cue to the seeress that the question is over), and the priestess running the event called on the next person. Suddenly, the seeress gestured to me and said:

“Oh, by the way, it will spread, but not bad and they’ll get it the second time.”

I wasn’t prepared for it, so it caught me off guard and frankly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat there silently sobbing for the rest of the event (about an hour), and needed a lot of time to ground and refocus before I was fit to leave. (I did have help from the group’s warders, including one who brushed off an opportunistic spirit that had attached to me.)

It was so upsetting because, though it sounds like good news in the end, spread would still be an awful thing to deal with and cancer treatment is, to be frank, barbaric. Hearing I’d have to go through it again, was…

Yeah.

Now, I need to be clear about a few things. First, and most importantly, I may have misheard this, and I have friends who are double checking to independently verify that I heard what I did. But I have to assume I did, so here are two things to keep in mind.

1.) The seeress was led to say what she was led to say. The delivery wasn’t great, to be totally honest, because I thought the question was over and was not prepared to hear that. But the message is the message. That’s not the seeress’ fault.

2.) This isn’t some crazy notion. The chances of my type of cancer spreading or returning are, sadly, very high. And my type of cancer does spread in very specific ways and to very specific organs. Some of those types of spread are, indeed, way easier than others to treat, and many people do have to go through two treatments, and then are cured and live long, happy lives.

So this message is not different from what I have heard from my doctors and what I know about my type of cancer.

Overall, I’m really grateful I attended PantheaCon. I received new spiritual guidance, got a difficult but needed message and really feel like I’m starting fresh on this path. If you ever have the chance to attend, do it!

I’ll be giving more detailed reviews of classes and other experiences soon.

A Return and a Blessing

You may have noticed I have not been around for a bit (which is a bit of an understatement, since I’ve hardly posted all year). So, I’ll get right down to it:

I have cancer.

We discovered it in mid-February, and since then my life has been a whirlwind of surgeries, repeated hospital trips because of complications, chemo, and more medications than I can keep up with. Plus, there’s that little thing of facing one’s own mortality at only 46 years old.

(My Stage IIIb  colon cancer has a pretty daunting survival rate; it’s better than Stage IV, but it’s serious. By the way: GET YOUR COLONOSCOPY!)

I’ve been out of work on disability since March, and have found myself with so little mental and emotional energy that I spend most of that time just lying in bed, watching a gazillion hours of Food Network. At least, I’ll be a great cook when I have the energy again.

But, slowly, surely – with the help of my family and my wonderful house mates – I’m settling into this new reality. I’ve always said that ‘I bloom where I planted’, and while I usually mean that in reference to physical location, I’ve decided it now means where I stand in the universe, too.

I’ve been doing this with the help of my patron god, Mercury, and a return to shamanic journeying. Which brings me to the blessing.

Trigger warning: If you have issue with spiders, you may want to end here.

In shamanic work, it’s always a good idea to have a guardian during your journeys. This usually manifests as a totem animal, and my totem has always been a spider. Specifically, a tarantula. He has been my guardian and my friend, and has stood beside me through many worlds.

Today, I was lying back in my chemo recliner, staring at the boring ceiling tiles, waiting for everything to start when I pointed out to my housemate, Ryan, a black spider on one of the tiles. He was hanging out, peeking in and out from the metal rail.

He made me smile.

My chemo lasts a long time because of the amount of meds I get, so after we eat our takeout lunch together, Ryan goes home before returning to pick me up. While he’s gone and the poison medicine is dripping into my veins, I curl up on my side and sleep. Today, I woke up suddenly…

…to find the black spider sitting on the white blanket that covered me. It skittered across my body and disappeared.

My eyes filled with tears.

I felt protected and safe.

Someone was watching over me.

Now, I get that most people wouldn’t have been too thrilled to wake up to find a spider on their shoulder, but for me, it was a blessing…and a message from my old friend:

I’ve got your back.”

 

A Different Take on New Year’s Resolutions

I’ll be back to posting more regularly after the holidays, but wanted to share a different – and, I think, more positive – approach to the yearly resolution bit.

The truth is, I don’t really do resolutions.

As an adherent of the Law of Attraction, they seem a recipe for failure. What message are you sending the Universe ?

What you think you’re saying: “I am overweight and haven’t lost the weight I want. I must lose weight and this year will be different; I will make myself lose weight, I swear.”

What the Universe hears: “I didn’t lose weight before and therefore I won’t lose weight this year.”

Instead I’ve replaced resolutions with two annual habits that help me enter the year with an air of acceptance and gratitude, and that truly set me up for success.

Habit One: The List
On the last day of the year (or as soon as you can), take a few minutes to sit quietly and make a list of 25 things you accomplished this year. They can be big or small. (Some years, getting through a rough year in one piece is an accomplishment). The only rule is that these have to be things you did, not that were done for you, and – while you can go higher if you like – you must get to 25.

I’ve never not reached 25, and even in rough years, my list is always more impressive than I thought it would be. It’s a good, neutral look at all you really accomplish during a year, and if that doesn’t put you in a grateful spirit for the upcoming year, nothing will.

Habit Two: January Challenge
While I’m absorbing the lessons of The List and thinking about what I want to apply from it to my year, I do a January Challenge.

This can be anything. Two years ago, I went vegan for January. Last year and this, I’ll be doing a “No Spend January”, using up everything I have already and cutting out unnecessary spending.

Unlike normal “resolutions”, these monthly challenges work because they’re “SMART”:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Reachable
  • Time Bound

Say “I resolve to lose weight in 2016” and see how far you get. But say “I won’t eat meat in January” and you’ve got a much better shot.

A “cheat” here and there doesn’t have the resolution-ending impact it might otherwise because your goal has boundaries; if you’re doing your challenge 90%, you can still have a very successful month.

Besides, you can do anything for a month.

End of January
At this point, I reevaluate my list and see what I want to start, stop, or continue. Then I launch into the New Year with an air of gratitude for the year past, and one major accomplishment already under my belt. Strangely, I find it much easier to keep improving.

This year, I invite you to try something a little more gentle than “I RESOLVE TO BE BETTER” and see where it leads you…

Use Yule Bells For Positive Energy

Clearing negative energy from your home is a basic housekeeping duty of any witch, particularly of the hearth witch variety. Smudging with sage, sprinkling salt and burning clearing incenses are all great ways to “clean up” the energy in your home.

But sometimes people forget that that’s just the first step. Once you’ve cleared the air, so to speak, you have a clean energetic slate. And naturally, you’ll want to fill that up with something positive.

This season gives you the perfect tool for that: jingle bells!

You can use any bells you can get your hands on; even a single bell will do, but I think more is more in this case. You can string a few on a brightly colored ribbon, maybe in a color to represent your intention. I have a long strand of extra large, rustic bells on twine and tied with rag ribbon that I use both as holiday decoration around this time and the perfect tool to ring in the energy I want.

Here are some basic steps to follow, but as always, you should let the energy guide you.

  • Take a cleansing bath, or at the very least, wash your hands to get ready for the clearing. Call in your spirit guides and helpers, or say a prayer to the deity of your choice.
  • Focus on the intention you want for your home: Peace, Joy, Abundance, Friendship…whatever positive energy you wish to attract.
  • Use whatever clearing method you prefer, though smudging with sage is tradition. Don’t forget to smudge yourself!
  • After the space is clear, start at the entrance to the room, with the bells in your right hand.
  • Move slowly around the room in a clockwise motion, ringing the bells in a light but quick rhythm, allowing them to sound as they will. At the same time, voice your intention loudly, joyously, or however the bells and your guides lead you.

You’ll find the energy changes dramatically as the bells lead you around the house, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can not only change the way the home feels but how they seem to help manifest your intention.

Obviously, this technique can be used anytime, but what better time than now?

Freeze Out Charm Using Yule Ornaments

I’ve posted this before, but this is a good time of year to dust off this great little charm for “freezing out” someone who is giving you grief. I like to collect shiny ornaments at this time of year (especially toward the end of the season, when they’re on sale!) for use in this charm all year round.

I learned this charm when I was going through a tough time with a former friend who was making my life miserable. I didn’t want to hurt them, but I wanted to end the relationship clean, so I could get on with my life. Another friend taught me this:

You start with a simple holiday ball ornament meant for your tree. The color doesn’t matter (though you could probably use green for healing, or red for protection), as long as the interior of the ball is “mirrored”.

  • Remove the hanger.
  • Focus your intention on separating yourself from the person involved, without wishing them harm. You simply want to “freeze them out” of your life so you can move on.
  • Write their name on a thin slip of paper in red ink. Roll the paper up and put it inside the mirrored ball and replace the hanger.
  • Say a prayer of thanks for the good things in the relationship, but state – out loud – that you’re no longer affected by this person.
  • Put the ball in the freezer, and walk away.

The freezer will help to “freeze them out” of your life. The mirrored ball will reflect back on them any negativity they send out to you without it hitting you. This will not harm them (unless they mean real harm to you), but it will protect you and allow you to move on.

As with all charms of this nature, it doesn’t work if you’re doing it to be vindictive (in that case, it might come back to haunt you) or if you obsess over the ball in the freezer.

Let go.

Walk away.

Move on.

Winter Solstice Brew

Infused liquors are great around the holidays, and require basically nothing more rigorous than a bit of chopping and some pouring.

This vanilla and citrus infused brandy will be perfect around the Yule fire, and will also make a killer sidecar.

Now, truth be told, I may have left this a bit too late this year. It needs 2 weeks of brewing, and then 1-3 weeks of mellowing after it’s strained. So, if you start now, it will be just about ready for Yule. But then again, it’s not like you won’t want to drink it after the holiday, because you will.

And did I mention how easy it is?

The ingredients

photo 1-6

You’ll need a bottle of decent brandy. Don’t feel like you need to go crazy (probably won’t want to use a bottle of $80 cognac), but you’ll want something that’s fairly good quality because this isn’t like cooking. You’ll definitely taste a poor brandy in this. I used Courvoisier, because you can’t really go wrong.

You’ll also want an orange, two vanilla beans, some star anise, half a cinnamon stick and a clean quart mason jar.

Making the brew

photo 2-5

Cut the orange into fourths and drop it into the jar. Add your cinnamon and anise, then slice open the vanilla beans and   pour in the brandy. Yeah. It’s that easy.

One important note, though: Make sure you pour enough brandy to cover every bit of the fruit and spices, particularly the ends of the vanilla beans. Exposed spices might mold.

Let it mellow

photo 3-5

Once you have it all put together, cap the jar tightly and put it in a cool, dry, dark place. I put it in my pantry. For the next two weeks, take it out and shake it once a day.

At the end of the two weeks, strain out the fruit and spices, and then return it to the jar and back into the pantry (or wherever) to mellow for 1-3 weeks.

Enjoy on Yule, New Year’s Eve and whenever you need a nice pick me up.