Sacred Space 2014 Conference
Article ID: 15651
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,103
Times Read: 7,879
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Posted: March 23rd. 2014
Times Viewed: 7,879
Sponsored by: Sacred Space Board of Directors
Location: Laurel, Maryland
Event Date(s): March 13-16, 2014
How many times have you gone to a workshop hoping that it would be gripping, insightful and engaging, only to find that it was better than you could possibly have imagined?
I did this seven times at this year’s Sacred Space gathering.
Little did I know the organizing committee had decided to offer a special track featuring Appalachian folk practitioners? Together, their workshops covered an eclectic assortment of traditions and magical genres deeply rooted in a common history and the love of their home.
I attended the first workshop, Crossroads Magic in Southern Conjure and Traditional Witchery, looking for the flavor of a practice I knew nothing about. I barely crammed myself into the packed room, a problem I would encounter again and again. From the moment Orion Foxwood spoke, I was entranced. It wasn’t because he is a powerful speaker and engaging performer, although he is. It wasn’t because I understood anything about the background or history of Appalachia, either.
No---it was because I’ve rarely seen such an exciting combination of teaching, storytelling and careful attention to historical detail. A brief but moving account of the way in which the Civil War impacted Appalachia and shaped the lives of both enslaved African Americans and their poor white neighbors formed the backdrop for an hour and a half of detailed instruction. Orion covered everything from the true nature of the “Dark Rider” --whom folk magicians summon at the crossroads -- to a three-hundred-year-old charm to staunch blood. Every story was told with great respect for the practices, beliefs and traditions of the people of Appalachia and the South---and it was made clear that although the two overlap, they are not identical. Orion continued their story in An Introduction to Appalachian Conjure and Southern Rootwork, a workshop to which he brought two cannon balls and the remains of a small but very heavy slave bracelet, which he thought might have been worn by a child.
Linda Ours Rago picked up on these threads and offered her own engaging instruction in Plant Spirit Healing, a workshop that introduced attendees to the close and loving relationship between Appalachian workers and the herbs, plants and spirits with whom they live. She began by passing around a cup of local dirt she had pried up with a spoon, asking each of us to touch it, feel it, and say something about it to open our circle. In this class, she talked about the difference between native plants and “invasive” non-natives, emphasizing the importance of building a relationship of respect with each. She introduced us to "Heart’s Ease" (better known as "Pansy") and lesser-known plants like "Hen and Chicks" (which also goes under the name “Welcome Home Husband, No Matter How Drunk You Are”) .
The names of plants, she told us, are important, and give us essential clues about the nature of each. Finally, she urged us to go outside, wherever we live, and get to know the land, which holds us up and hosts us. Using her own close relationship with the cove in which she was raised as a model, she asked us all to wake up and reach out to the living land with which each of us lives.
Finally, Byron Ballard packed the house and brought it down with her workshop on the controversial topic of hexing: Willful Bane: The Appalachian Folk Magic Approach to the Joy of Hex. This clever title introduced the combined themes of magical protection and social justice, particularly in the context of historical last resorts available to the disenfranchised, stigmatized poor. She acknowledged that many people fear any discussion of magical retribution, and anchored her talk firmly in the grim life experiences and bitter realities faced by African American slaves and poor mountain whites.
I was fascinated by her explanation of the Nine Levels of Bane---a very sensible, useful model that can be used to guide magical workers in dealing with toxic influences and people in an ethical, effective way. In this sense, the workshop title was a bit of a bait-and-switch---which I appreciated very much. By drawing people in with this provocative title, Byron was able to open the floor to a very real, no-holds-barred discussion of what to do when bad things happen to good people, and how to do them practically, ethically and sensibly. I was surprised by the skill with which she wove back and forth between historical folk practices of hexing and modern approaches to magical protection in ways that gave respect to each. I was also delighted when she told us about her recent research on the practices of the Scots-Irish Border Reavers, a group that later migrated to Appalachia, bringing their traditions with them.
Finally, all three practitioners wrapped up the track in a lively and emotional panel discussion. I am often leery of panels: they run the risk of being light on practical content and long on pontification. That didn’t happen this time. Instead, all three workers collaborated to paint us a picture of what it was like to grow up in Appalachia, what that meant for them as magical and folk practitioners, and surprisingly---what it might mean for each us as we struggled to find our own way back to the magical practices of home.
I highly recommend these workshops, should you have the opportunity to experience them elsewhere. I’m also completely sold on Sacred Space, a gathering I’ve rarely visited in the past. Every workshop I attended was intelligent, gripping and respectful, and I came away amazed at the consistently high quality of their presenters. Earlier this year, one of my colleagues told me that Sacred Space was a gathering for advanced practitioners, and now I understand why. I will return, and I’ll bring my friends and collaborators with me. If this year was any indication, Sacred Space is a place where your hunger to grow in practice and knowledge will be fed. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who feels ready to go a little deeper and a little stronger into magical practice.
Photo by Beth Owl’s Daughter.
Location: Plainfield, New Jersey
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