The Sacred Space Conference and Winterfest Banquet
Article ID: 12365
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: February 3rd. 2008
Times Viewed: 16,882
Sponsored by: Sacred Space Foundation and the Maryland Faerie Festival
Location: Laurel, Maryland
Event Date(s): January 18th. - 21st., 2008
After several years in eclipse, two beloved events, the Sacred Space Conference and the Renaissance banquet Winterfest, returned to grace the Washington, DC/Baltimore Pagan community this past weekend. It was a weekend of diversity within community, blessed with both merriment and serious purpose.
Sacred Space was for many years the premiere regional hotel conference, bringing together renowned teachers from far away as well as showcasing the best in local talent. Winterfest was everyone’s favorite midwinter Renaissance-style banquet. When both the banquet and the conference disappeared, there were holes in our annual community schedule, and sadness in our hearts. We looked longingly at our velvet garb hanging unworn in the closet, and we missed the opportunity to learn from some of the best teachers in the world along with our learned friends from this area.
And so, like Isis seeking Osiris, we decided to resurrect our beloved conference and revive our joyous banquet.
From a metaphorical perspective, the Sacred Space Conference had indeed been chopped into 42 pieces, and scattered throughout the land with the vital piece fed to fishes. Slowly over the course of 14 months, a group of us worked to resurrect Sacred Space, to recreate the conference we had so enjoyed. Winterfest proved almost as difficult to regenerate as Sacred Space. The banquet required a restorative transplant of magic from the Maryland Faerie Festival in order to wake from its slumber. But once we got to the events themselves, the results were splendid: the conference and banquet were a whimsical mixture of mirth and learning, scholarship and play, entertainment and education.
Sacred Space still recalled fond memories to people who had taught at the conference in years past. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary was a keynote teacher several times over the years. This year, Selena kindly agreed to make herself available to the conference once again, to help with the resurrection. Ivo Dominguez, Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel here in the mid-Atlantic region was also a conference regular in bygone times. We rounded out the list of featured presenters by including Raven Kaldera of Cauldron Farm and Andras Corban Arthen of the EarthSpirit Community, both from New England.
Selena produced community-based opening and closing rituals that set the energy of the conference strongly spiraling. It was a joy to see the familiar faces from the old days amidst bright newbies attracted to the reborn conference.
Selena loves the Goddess Brighid, and offered a wonderful workshop and ritual dedicated to the Lady of Smithcraft, Poetry and Healing. She also taught classes on end of life issues, house blessing magic, Pagan religious rights, the Goddess of Freedom and the Pentacle Quest victory.
Ivo Dominguez, Jr. led an eclectic mix of rituals and workshops. His topics included esoteric material about the Sun, divination and prophecy and a Qabala workshop on Tiphereth. Ivo also led a ritual designed to help people join the divine sparks of our little selves with the blazing star that is our Greater Selves. His skilled teaching and his wide-ranging knowledge were inspiring as always.
Andras Corban Arthen’s arrival was delayed by snowy weather in New England, but he was able to teach an excellent workshop about Soul Companions, which he has written up for inclusion in an upcoming book by the same name. He also taught about interfaith relations, one of his specialties through his work on the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Several people were excited to learn about The Witch as Shaman from Andras. Andras also performed some of his songs and told stories one evening.
Raven Kaldera of Cauldron Farm shared his vision of Northern Tradition shamanism with conference attendees, as well as enlightening us about Pagan polyamory. He discussed altered states of consciousness for use in shamanism and magical workings, and told us about the Kingdom of Freaks and Monsters. Raven was an exotic presence in the hotel, with his elaborate shaman’s apparel including a hat with most of a skunk on it.
Osiris was the tutelary deity of the conference this year, with our theme being The Resurrection of Osiris. It was an appropriate mythos to anchor a conference that had lain dormant for several years. The conference gained a boost in momentum from Michael Smith’s workshop Osiris, Horus, Set, an illustrated account of the ancient drama of sibling rivalry, murder, resurrection and struggle among the Egyptian Gods. Ivo Dominguez, Jr. contextualized the story of Osiris within the more familiar mythos of the Greenman. Crescent Zed Rod used the myth of Osiris to explicate the mind/body split. And Lady Amber Dawn offered a workshop comparing her two biggest heroes, Osiris and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an interesting concept, and very timely, considering we held the conference on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial holiday.
Michael Smith, who is an Assembly of the Sacred Wheel priest of Bast, also taught a class about Isis, the Universal Goddess. His wonderful Powerpoint show of ancient images and ancient sites complimented the lecture splendidly. The presence of Isis hovered over the entire conference, pleased to see Her Consort receiving the honor that is His due.
We had many classes honoring deities and religions originating in Africa. Patricia Althouse of Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary offered an introduction to Santeria that crackled with intensity. Besides being a Santera dedicated to Obatala, Patricia is a fabulous wine and mead maker, and she brought her wares to sample and sell in the vendors’ room. Lady Amber Dawn presented material about her beloved Orisha Chango. We were honored to welcome Kykosa Kajangu, of the Bashi people of eastern Congo, who is a student of Credo Mutwa, the most famous shaman of the Zulu people. Dr. Kaj, as he prefers to be known, also holds a Ph. D. in religious studies from U.C.L.A. We felt lucky to be able to learn more about the wisdom teachings of Africa from Dr. Kaj, and we hope he will join us next year.
Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary, the Washington, DC Radical Faeries and the Stone Circle tradition of Wicca were represented by Quira, Eldritch and Snowbaal teaching alone and in interesting combination. We were enchanted to learn about the Sacred Fool from Eldritch, a natural pairing of teacher and topic if ever there was one. Snowbaal used his professional path to inform a workshop on When Death is not a Metaphor, and enlightened us about the descent of Innana and the spiritual benefits of relinquishing power. And Qira taught about Pagan prayer and spiritual vocation. The three of them also joined together to offer a ritual of sacrifice and transformation drawn from the Stone Circle tradition.
Raudhildr, trained as a Seidr priestess by the beloved and much respected Diana Paxson, joined us to present a ceremony of Oracular Seidr with members of her ritual team. She was a commanding seeress on the high seat. Kit Mason presented a pair of workshops on energy work. Michelle Mueller, a community member currently working on a doctorate in Pagan divinity in the San Francisco Bay area, offered a presentation on the Gnostic Hallow-Mass. Cat McGowan and Sophia HeartSinger honored the Muse of Music at the conference. Both women have exquisite soprano voices. Cat taught Songs of the African Diaspora in preparation for the New Orleans Voodoo Conjure Dance Ceremony. Sophia HeartSinger debuted her work-in-progress: a racy rock opera entitled the Passion of Persephone.
Even racier was Wilddragon’s Erotic Trancework ritual. Wilddragon was one of the original team of Sacred Space organizers, and is a priest of Aphrodite. Tio Neto, also known as Rev. Charles Butler, was the original founder of the conference. He offered a dramatic reading of his work Dancer from Babylon, a retelling of the story of Salome’s dance and the beheading of John the Baptist.
Tio Neto also graced the Sacred Space Vendors’ Room with trays of cut crystals from Brazil and racks of literature about Ecumenicon Fellowship. Cat McGowan of Purring Banshee Studios brought her pottery honoring the Orisha and the Loa among other deities and spirits. The Witches’ Element brought fabulous scents and incenses to burn for every magical purpose. Fritter and Teddy brought Squaring the Circle, their fun, frilly and fabulous store, to the conference. With books, decks and minerals, batik scarves and sarongs, Squaring the Circle carried something for everyone. Sarasvati’s Call offered such a variety of beautiful clothes that almost every woman in the conference bought something gorgeous. I took home a terrific green beaded leather bodice to wear at the Maryland Faerie Festival this coming June 7th and 8th in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. And Selena Fox brought racks of literature about Circle Sanctuary and her work with Lady Liberty League protecting our Pagan religious rights. Rounding off the Vendors’ Room were the delicious wines of Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary, made by gifted winemaker Patricia Althouse. Patricia did such an excellent business during the Winterfest banquet that we have asked her to be Official Wine Provider for next year’s banquet, as her beverages far outclassed and out-sold the hotel’s offerings.
We were honored to have Tim Ward, author of The Savage Breast: One Man’s Search for the Goddess, as an opening speaker on Friday night. Tim has spent years traveling throughout the world on various spiritual quests, and then writing fascinating books about his adventures. Although I loved the slide lecture Arousing the Goddess, about Tim’s spiritual and sensual awakening among the Buddhist ruins in India, The Savage Breast is my favorite book from Tim yet. I wept when Tim explained the importance of the Goddess for men’s emotional development. I exulted to hear a straight man talk with deep emotion about his pursuit of the Goddess throughout Europe and the Near East. Tim’s slides transported us to ancient temples like Athena’s Parthenon, Diana at Ephesus and Stone Age Malta, to the beach on Cyprus where foam-born Aphrodite first stepped ashore, and to the dark pool at Hecate’s original shrine. We felt Her sacred presence gently manifesting in Her many aspects among us.
And I presented the New Orleans Voodoo Conjure Dance Ceremony, a ritual dance of spirit possession and manifestation. Cat McGowan, a Sanba or traditional song mistress, called to the various Loa and Orisha of Vodoun and Santeria with songs in Haitian Creole and the language of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. We were lucky to have R. Tigre Cruz, drum mage of the band Kiva, as our lead drummer. Tigre has helped us with the Conjure Dance several times in the past. And we welcomed Michael Gryffyn, a local sound healer, to add his rhythms. Gryffyn has also helped lead the Conjure Dance in years past.
Many people received spirit possessions during the Conjure Dance. Aphrodite possessed Sophia HeartSinger, and the Goddess blessed her with a miraculous healing. Some years previously, Sophia fell prey to nerve damage in her nipple, due to a needle biopsy of her breast. Healed miraculously by Aphrodite, Sophia performed an ecstatic dance celebrating The Breast. Cat McGowan sang steadily throughout the evening, and only fell to the ground with a possession while singing to her beloved La Siren, Mermaid of the Loa. Yemaya, Orisha of the Ocean, possessed me as a wave rolling into shore, and I fell to the ground and rolled across the ballroom more swiftly than humanly possible.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night it was time to get out our garb and our Faerie finery to celebrate Winterfest, a traditional Renaissance-style banquet. Now being produced by the Maryland Faerie Festival, Winterfest enjoyed a twenty year run of mid-winter banquets before founder Red Susan decided to retire. But Susan was happy to pass the flaming torch of Winterfest to a new generation, and she presided over the revived banquet with grace and style as an Eminence Rouge. Seated at the Mortal Court’s table next to Queen Selena Fox and Her Consort, King Dennis, Susan was more regal than Red Queen Elizabeth the First in her elegant brocade and her ruff.
The evening’s drama centered on the struggle between the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court of the Faeries to keep possession of the Light. All banquet attendees were given a glowstick, and the two Faerie Courts vied with one another vigorously to persuade, cajole and sometimes steal the lightsticks from the diners. Much mirth and hilarity ensued. In the final tally, the Seelie Queen emptied her bodice of concealed lightsticks to gain victory over the Unseelie Queen, as judged by Queen Selena and King Dennis.
While the lightstick competition was occurring, diners enjoyed entertainment by Royal Harper Lee Davenport, a community favorite at Winterfests past, and also at the Maryland Faerie Festival. His pristine arpeggios on the Celtic-style harp set the stage for the next act, the medieval dance troupe Three Left Feet. Their traditional set dances provided the entertainment sponsored by the Mortal Court of Queen Selena and King Dennis.
Kalabran, Herald of Winterfest and main organizer of the reborn event, then announced that Cinderella’s Slipper had been discovered, and all Ladies of the Mortal and Faerie Courts were entitled to try the Slipper. Fritter of the DC Radical Faeries acted as a colorfully turbaned Footman, bearing the Glass Slipper on a velvet pillow. The tiny shoe was so small that my 11 year-old daughter Sophie could get but a single toe inside. But still the Ladies of the Courts competed to see whether they got to marry Prince Charming. Sadly, the Slipper slipped away ownerless.
Next came Mavi of Romka, sponsored by the Unseelie Court. Mavi left her fiery flames at home, but danced with gigantic silken Faerie wings as blue as her hair. As Mavi rhythmically writhed, wriggled and swirled, her Faerie wings enclosed her, revealed her and concealed her once again. The audience was rapt before her stunning magnificence. Mavi’s performance was so fabulous that I happily gave my glowstick to the Unseelie Queen as a tribute offering.
Finally, the entertainment sponsored by the Seelie Court began: Scott Helland and the Gypsy Nomads. Much loved by audiences up and down the East Coast, Scott’s whirlwind guitar mixes Gypsy, Celtic, Medieval and Punk in a witty blend, while Nomad Samantha combines wild djembe, French ballads and percussion jams to create a sonic landscape uniquely their own. Their lively music drove diners to become dancers, and even to attempt acrobatics, with some mixed results! Garb swaying, wings unfurling and feet stomping, we danced any remaining midwinter blues away.
At the end of the evening, Queen Selena Fox led us in an Imbolc Ritual. Seelie, Unseelie and Mortals alike joined together to celebrate the Return of the Light, personified by my daughter Sophie. The sight of the Winterfest Assembly aglow with lit candles calling to the Goddess Brighid was a splendid vision duly honoring the Feast of Candlemas. It was enough to warm the heart of any Faerie or Mortal to see all attendees shimmering with candle-lit goodwill.
With warm Imbolc wishes to all, we invite you to join us for next year’s conference and banquet. See www.sacrespacefoundation.org and www.marylandfaeriefestival.org for details, starting in a couple of months.
All photos courtesy of Snook Family Photography (unless otherwise noted)
From Top to Bottom
- The Three Courts of Winterfest (from left to right): King James and Queen Jamie of the Unseelie Court King Dennis and Queen Selena Fox of the Mortal Court, flanking Sophie personifying The Light Queen Noelle and King Xtian of the Seelie Court.
- Will Seelie Princess Olivia be stabbed in the back by Unseelie Champion Kathy and Unseelie King James?
- Sound healer Michael Gryffyn and Lady Leah shopping at Fritter and Teddy's Squaring the Circle booth.
- Caroline Kenner with her daughter Sophie personifying The Light and her partner Jason (photo by Mariela Stevenson).
- King Dennis and Queen Selena Fox Judging the Lightstick Rivalry at Winterfest.
web references..... www.sacredspacefoundation.org and www.marylandfaeriefestival.org
Location: Silver Spring, Maryland
Author's Profile: To learn more about Caroline Kenner - Click HERE
Bio: Caroline Kenner is a Washington Witchdoctor, trained as a shamanic healer for twelve years by Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Caroline began studying Witchcraft in 1983 with Andras Corban Arthen. She is initiated into two branches of Wicca: the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a Wiccan organization based in the mid-Atlantic, and the magical family of Anglo-Irish Witches Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. Caroline has received initiatory ceremonies in La Regla de Ocha de Lukumi, also known as Cuban Santeria, including the Elekes, the Warriors and two Orishas in the Santo Lavado ritual. Caroline serves as a media spokesperson for the Washington, DC and Baltimore Pagan community. She works to dispel misconceptions in the public mind about Paganism and Witchcraft. Caroline holds an A.B. in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College, and an M.S. in communications from Boston University.
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