ConVocation 2011 Wrap-Up

So, another lone post to make in the echoing chamber of this blog space. At the moment I’m leaning toward making posts just for High Days and other big topics as they come up. Sadly, with as many other Paganish things as I’m doing now (including beginning the Nine Moons Work this week), I’m finding it all too easy not to do weekly blog posts, but I do still think the write-ups of ritual weekends have some use, so I won’t delete the thing just yet.

ConVocation! The frenzy, the fun, the fluffiness!The relatively small Midwestern version of Pantheacon!  I was going to do another journal at the convention, similar to what I did last year, but with fewer of my Grovemates in attendance, I has to spend more time keeping the room running, so I never quite found the time to devote my thoughts to writing. Thanks to some last-minute donations and the kind understanding of the convention staff, we did manage to get the suite we had reserved. The stress of facing the possibility of losing our $300 deposit – or more accurately, the $300 Jean gave us for one of the bedrooms – was not fun. Right now, I’m thinking that unless we get like a thousand dollars in donations by August, we’re not even going to attempt to get a suite next year. It would be worth considering getting a smaller room for Grove activities instead, but given how early the hotel fills up and my reluctance to reserve a room that I don’t know I’ll be able to pay for, that may not work out either. The real question may be whether we need a room when so few SLG members seem interested in attending the convention at all, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

One definite improvement over last year was that several people actually attended the four events we had scheduled in the room, up from zero people attending last year. Granted, most of them were ADF members, but we did have a few non-ADF folk at my small Apollo/Hekate rite on Saturday afternoon. This was the same rite I submitted for the convention programming but wasn’t accepted. I’d have gone for something bigger and wordier if it had been part of the official programming, but knowing that I would have a smaller group, I kept it minimalist, but still Core Order, and actually performed the “Waters of Life” blessing for I think the second time in my life. Barbara Wright said she really liked it, so that meant a lot to me, I don’t often do rites with other ADF clergyfolk in attendance.
We also had Jean do a Bardic presentation for credit in the Bardic Guild Study program, and an introduction to the ADF Study Program, and Kestrel did her workshop on Warrior Women.

So other than sitting in the room and answering questions for the oh so few non-ADF folks who did stop by throughout the weekend, what did I do? I did attend three official events, which I think is about triple the number I did last year. The Iron Ritualist workshop was an intriguing creative experience, where we had fifteen minutes to devise a five-minute ritual of some sort using the items they gave us, though sadly we had to be in teams so I didn’t get to do the Druidic ritual I’d hoped to do. And I don’t think most of the folks with speaking parts quite got the “five minute” thing, our own group’s invocations took over two minutes by themselves. But as an exercise in creating liturgy quickly and with limited materials, it was fascinating, and I’d love to try to run this at Wellspring or Midnight Flame for ADF folks to try out.

Saturday evening, despite a few trepidations after the Lansing folks told me about Jason Mankey’s ritual techniques (many involving alcohol), I did go ahead and attend his “traditional Greek ritual” to Aphrodite and Dionysus. An odd pairing to me, since I associate Aphrodite with maintaining cultural stability (in her Pandemos aspect) and Dionysus is a bit more, um, unpredictable. >8) I’ll say this, though, the rite was pretty authentic. No Wiccan rite with Greek deities stuck in, certainly, and the purifications and reading of the hymns would have been right at home in any Hellenion or Neokoroi rite. But there were the usual problems I see when folks who aren’t used to running big public rituals try to run big public rituals. He really should have set up the altar space so people could stand around it rather than all pressing into it from one side (Icouldn’t even see it for most of the rite), and sure it’s okay to tell people not to say “blessed be” in a Hellenic rite, but if you’re the one running it, you really should know what they actually *did* say so people can say it. (“Esto!” It’s just like “presto” but without the P.R.) And the emphasis on honoring Aphrodite as an uncontrolled deity who was feared/hated by the Greek patriarchy – er, really? (Or in Greek: Alethia, Jason?) Not where I’d have gone with it, certainly. And then there was the “transformative” part of the ritual that he warned us about in the pre-ritual briefing (and total props for actually having a pre-ritual briefing), involving a guided visualization of the two deities, for which I thought I should probably sneak out before that part started. But I didn’t. And I really should have. I won’t bore you all with my issues with the two gods, but yeah, I’d have enjoyed it  lot more without that.

And Sunday morning, I managed to do my “Truth About Hades” class on not enough sleep, and beyong saying that Hades’ helm of invisibility was a cloak (too much Harry Potter on the brain, clearly), I think I did okay. Sadly I had to cut it short because the class was 9:30 to 11, hotel check-out was 11, and they wouldn’t give us an extension, so I had to dash back to the suite at 10:30 to get it cleaned. Fortunately Amy and Mel had gotten a lot of it done and we did manage to get everything out on time.

And at noon, before I headed home, I stopped by Rob (Keefer, not me) and Aine’s class on experiencing deity, which when I heard it was going to involve channeling, I once again thought it was time to leave early. But I stuck it out, and it wasn’t too bad, but definitely not something I personally am into. But it’s always good to remember why I’m not a Wiccan any more. >8) I’m definitely glad they introduced concepts of hard and soft polytheism to a crowd that might not get exposed to hard polytheism that often.

So, the class and ritual selection that was available this year. It was a big topic of discussion, at least among folks who’ve been talking to me about the convention for the last month. (First question: Why isn’t there an ADF ritual on the schedule? After finding out that I submitted one and it wasn’t accepted: Wait, they didn’t take your Greek ritual but they did take Mankey’s? I have no answer to that one, beyond his being more popular than me, and cuter too.) A lot of people who had been planning to attend the convention changed their minds when the programming schedule went up. I can remember when Jane Sibley came to do workshops on the Runes and Norse ritual and drew a huge crowd. But over the years, there’ve been fewer of the reconstructionist classes and rituals, and more and more classes devoted to Energy Work Technique A, Energy Work Technique B, Energy Work Technique C, and Wicca. (Hek, this year, I didn’t even see that many Wiccan classes on the schedule.) To me, it felt like the programming was shifting more and more toward fluffiness (I still can’t believe there was a “Course in Miracles” class this year), and less and less reason for me to want to spend money (serious money, given my current income) to be there. (Of course, if my ritual had been on the schedule as well as my class, then my entire membership would have been comped, so there’s one more reason for me to be annoyed about its rejection.) And with as many of my Grovemates who had been planning to attend but then cancelled, I seem not to be the only one.

What’s the solution? There’s no easy one, from my perspective. Having organized the programming at ADF festivals before, I know all too well that the programming staff can’t put recon/scholarly classes on the schedule if they don’t have any submitted. But if their reputation continues to be that fluffy classes rule the day, the few people we could convince to submit those non-fluffy classes are going to be harder and harder to convince. A public statement from MEC that they would like to have more scholarly and recon programming on the schedule next year would help. But they’d need to mean it, of course. I know that other conventions will have “tracks” set up for particular interests so that none of the workshops/rituals/etc. in that category get scheduled against each other, so attendees who want to go to all of those events and none of the others can do so. I think that it would be good for ConVocation, to have a “scholarly” track, assuming that they can get enough event to fill the track.

(Actually, my dream technique to change it would be to have Ceisiwr Serith as a guest next year. He’s got a new book out, lots of Pagans have read his earlier books, he’s a recognizable name among the recon crowd, and an indoor convention would be perfect for him, given that he hates outdoor camping even more than I do and almost never attends festivals because of that. Where do I file that suggestion so MEC actually sees it? And don’t say “their Web site”, that thing has lost every message I’ve sent them for the last two years.)

Beyond that, the big question is whether we even try to get a suite next year. There’s clearly a demand for it. at least among ADF members who spent most of the weekend congregating there, and I just wish the interest translated into dollars. On the other hand, I remember when the SLG room actually got non-ADF members to show up for things, in particular our room parties. (One of the many reasons I’m sad that Gen and I have broken up. She could organize parties. I can’t.) At least a few times this weekend, I looked around the suite and thought, “enclave”. If we didn’t have a suite to retreat to, would we be engaging the masses of the convention a little more than we seem to be doing? Actually, no, we’d probably just not be showing up at all. I don’t mind being contrarian in the service of something I feel strongly about (ask me about ADF’s emphasis on honoring the Earth Mother some time >8) but as much as I enjoy being the not-fluffy not-Wiccan standing up for Druidry amidst the New Age hordes, a thousand dollars that we don’t have is a rather expensive way to do that. I almost feel like running our own smaller convention would be an easier way to do that. Okay, probably not.

So as not to end the article sad or angry, I will share a few of the small things that really did brighten my weekend. Meeting everyone in the suite, and a few old friends outside of the suite, was amazing. (Though meeting a 21 year old I hadn’t seen since he was 11 was, um, frightening.) (And apparently I look just the same as I did ten years ago, which I guess is a good thing?) I won the FOCAS goodie basket at the raffle, which included chocolate bars, a mouse pad, a T-shirt, and a one year membership in FOCAS. (I guess they finally found a way for me to join!) Oh, and apparently I’ve also volunteered to run FOCAS’ fall equinox rite for them, a much less expensive way to bring Druid ritual to the non-Druids. Stopping by the drumming with Janek was fun, he seemed to enjoy the sound, though he had no interest in being put down so he could dance. And I bought a small dragon refrigerator magnet made by Amie at the Art show, my only Art Show purchase ever at ConVocation.

So will I and/or the Grove be attending next year? Given how up in the air my own financial and living situation is, I can’t honestly say for myself. (Wellspring this year will be enough of a challenge.) But I hope that I can be there, and I hope there are a few more interesting things on the schedule for me to do.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

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A Large Brídeog Followed By A Tiny Imbolc

(brushing a bit of the dust away, has it been three weeks already?)

Long-time readers of this blog may remember our two-person two-household Brídeog from three years ago, follow by two canceled Brídeogs because we got absolutely no volunteers to go from house to house, the first leaving me saddened, the second kinda pissed off. I was quite prepared to just not schedule one this year and let this particular Grove tradition fade into the past like Bardic Night and the Lughnasadh Games. But when we discussed it at An Bruane in December, Gen (probably the most unlikely Grove member to stand up for Bríd) made a suggestion. Go ahead and schedule a Brídeog, she said, but require anyone who wants their home visited to send someone on the trip. Fair enough, I thought, that will either get us some volunteers or at least make me feel better about canceling it. So that’s what the announcement in our Yule newsletter said.

And lo, we got two volunteers right away, and then one a week before the date, and then one more two days before the date. (It seems to be a rule that someone always waits to ask until one or two days ahead. And it amuses me that the people who ask early seem to think I’m being cruel to them by not telling them exactly where we’re going until two days before, as though I had a choice other than refusing a goddess’ blessings to someone who didn’t meet a deadline!)

So in the late afternoon, the corn dolly and I went to Ann Arbor to get Barbara, then Pinckney for Kestrel, and then we made the long long drive to Oxford (longer than it needed to be, thanks to my GPS’s apparent disdain for using M-59) and Sean and Kris’ home. Then all of us drove to Ferndale for Paul and Val’s home, where the Oxford crew left us because they’d made evening plans. (One of the problems of going years without a Brídeog: people may not realize that it’s always been an after-dark thing!) From there it was a straight shot down Eight Mile with Val following in her car to get to my home, where we blessed not only the house but the barn. (The mules seemed only mildly interested in us.) From there, we all somehow fit into my car to get to Kestrel’s, then we left Kestrel there and the three of us went to Barbara’s, which was far and away the smallest home we visited. (In twenty years, I’d forgotten just what college housing looked like!) We got back to my place around 11, which was a lot earlier than I’d expected to finish, though none of the homes had the huge spreads of food and drink that used to keep things slowed down during earlier Brídeogs.

For each home we visited, we sang our boisterous barging-through-the-door song, followed by the Bríd invocation, and then I carried the Bríd dolly around the house while Barbara read the House Blessing poem. After collecting our offering of food to be donated to Food Gatherers and giving a Bríd Cross in return, we sang the boisterous song of leaving as we, er, left. Much as in our previous Brídeogs. (Do we need to rewrite any of these? Thought for next year.)

The driving was a little tricky since there’d been snow earlier that day and not every rod was clear, but it was still manageable. If the blizzard that hit us on Wednesday had come four days earlier, we would likely have had to cancel yet another Brídeog, so that worked out. And with three days to go until the ritual, and a prediction of only light flurries on Saturday, I knew the Imbolc ritual itself would be fine too.

But sometimes we don’t always know what we think we know. Since I had to work in the morning, I only had a short drive through the early part of the snowfall, and Rodney got to the site at around 1, so we had the place mostly set up before we realized that this was a good deal more than a light flurry coming down. And then I started getting the phone calls from folks who weren’t going to risk the roads just for a ritual. Thoughts of postponement might have flitted through my head at that point (as many other Imbolc activities in the area did get canceled, I found out later), but with the ritual space completely set up and no guarantees that we could get that space reserved for a later date, I decided to go through with it. If Rod and I were the only ones doing the ritual, so be it. The work would be done.

Happily, a few other folks did arrive, mostly from within the Ann Arbor city limits so the drive wasn’t as intimidating. We also got a family who had never attended a pagan ritual before but read about us in the Ann Arbor Observer sand thought it sounded interesting. I thank them both for their spirit of adventure and discovery, and also for bringing our attendance up to ten, continuing our sixteen year string of double-digit High Day attendance.  >8)

The ritual itself was nice. I definitely prefer rituals with more people in attendance, as there’s definitely something about a big group joining together for a ritual that a small group can’t match. But there’s also an appeal to knowing that even with the obstacles placed in our way by the weather, we still had a group there who had overcome those obstacles just to continue our tradition and honor one of our gods. During the Manannan invocation, those of us on the far side of the room could clearly see the elevator door in the back room open and close by itself, although one would assume that Manannan wouldn’t need to use the elevator, so we’re still debating who or what decided to join us at that point.

At the ritual planning session, we’d decided to focus on the more household-centric aspects of Bríd, instead of her grander aspects of healing and inspiration and such. It’s always been a challenge to adapt a traditional Imbolc celebration, very much a family-oriented household rite, into a large public group rite, and I thought that shifting the focus of offerings and return blessings to the domestic would work. And I think it did, even if only a few folks were there to see it. I’d love to try again next year and see how it works with more in attendance, assuming no massive snowstorms next year. We passed a pitcher of milk as the focus object for individual praise and the main sacrifice, and for the return we blessed and shared sheep cheese (actually a mixed sheep/goat cheese, I couldn’t find any pure sheep cheese), bannock bread provided by Gen, and candles, all useful household items to help a family get through the winter.

After the rite, we got the place cleaned up super-fast and were on the road by 5. It’s not that we didn’t socialize, it’s just that we got it done faster than usual. >8) The new folks had many questions which Rod and I answered, so if nothing else we got some public relations/education done that day. Raffle proceeds were non-existent, but that was to be expected at that point. Hopefully we’ll get decent attendance for the equinox, or our bank account may come close to bottoming out.

And speaking of financials, it looks like we finally did manage to get the money to pay for our suite at ConVocation, and only two weeks after the deadline! If you attend the convention, please stop by and visit us in room 202 (last year’s convention hospitality suite), where we’ll be doing a ritual and at least a few workshops, and providing hospitality throughout the weekend. (I’ll also be doing my workshop on Hades and Persephone as part of the official convention programming, which I now see has been moved from 11 AM Sunday to 9:30 AM Sunday, so apparently there will be even fewer people there than I was expecting!) And if you’re not there, check back here in three weeks for my write-up of our experiences that weekend, not to mention my decision on whether or not to continue this blog. Either way, see you then!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF