This conference recap is taking longer to write than I’d planned for, because I am in the middle of a move (and a whole bunch of really awesome and profoundly derailing ritual cycles) and I have limited access to the internet (and this computer) in the midst of all of this. But, fuck excuses…
When last I left off here, I had recounted the stunning rites of the Ekklesia Antinoou and the making of two Sancti, recently passed from this world in life. That brought us to around 7:00pm on Friday, the first day of PantheaCon’s 20th Anniversary weekend.
This particular time-slot is actually a tiny bit disjointed for me, because I was tired from the “hunt for PSVL” earlier in the afternoon, sleep-deprived, not quite calibrated for the time-zone yet, and by that point I’d already finished off most of a bottle of Barbancourt 8-year Haitian rum (I shared!) and was moving into a bottle of 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which was delicious. The primary highlight of this period, however, was the wonderful time spent in the Coru Cathubodua‘s hospitality suite — one of the two rooms that they occupied, and shared with this humble feral Thracian, on the hotel’s 2nd Floor, the other being a not-yet-at-that-time consecrated Temple one door down — during which I got to engage in both theological discourse and purely fun socializing with dear friends new and old, sworn allies and beloved kin. In short, it was pretty awesome. And then (I think, anyway.. linear time isn’t really my strong suit..!) a most unexpected thing happened. That thing is called…
John Fucking Beckett. I was engaged in some supremely awesome topic or another when suddenly my attention was drawn to my left, and I noticed a man sitting there, talking, gesturing, engaging — and I realized I knew him. “John Fucking Beckett!” I exclaimed, and with those words, the tone for the rest of the Conference (for at least one of us…) was established for the ages. John looked over to me with this completely earnest expression of half-surprise and half-bewilderment at who this profaning savage beside him was. I lifted my con badge, which read “Anomalous Thracian”, just as somebody else introduced me verbally. He lit up. His smile goes all the way to his eyes. We shook hands, and some fantastic conversations flowed and followed — and he even drank one of my god Sabazios‘ favorite beers, while I continued to commune with the 2 Gingers — and a whole lot more profane introductions took place. By the end of the exchange, everyone at the entire event was whispering about the rumored presence of John Fucking Beckett, and there may well have been some threats of revenge against my person from this seemingly mild-mannered blogging druid from the great state of Texas. (In seriousness, meeting and talking with John was amongst the highlights of the weekend for me. If you ever have the opportunity, buy this man a beer, and pick his brain. Be sure to address him by his proper profane name, and he’ll know I sent you.)
The Coru’s Temple was set to be consecrated ritually and opened to the public at 9:00pm, and I was eager — for reasons which can be discerned if you know about my own Temple, and the years spent serving it almost 24/7, before my move from CA and its ritual razing — to be present for that. However, the Spirits had other things in mind, as I was summoned elsewhere for other community engagements (whereupon a certain Haitian spirit gifted me with a bottle of Barbancourt White rum, and clean, tidy offerings were made on my behalf to other spirits at the recently risen altar up on the 10th floor). I got to spend time with blessed and beloved family, including my brothers from Chicago who run the Vodou Store and Big Liz of the Conjure Corner, Mambo “T” Chita Tann and others, too many to name. After a while, other community (and spiritual) obligations called me away from one family, and back to another — back down to the Coru I flew. (Well, in honesty, I may have stumbled a little. It was very good rum, and my third-ish bottle of the night. I shared from that, too…)
It was a blessed night spent with people I either never get to see outside of this event, or else haven’t seen since my East Coast relocation. It was emotionally hard for me to be “back”, and this caused a stirring of conflict for me at some of the people and geographically-close connections I’d left in this move.
That night I had the blessing of spending the night in the Temple of the Morrigan itself, which was powerful for me for entirely personal reasons. There are very few people who understand what it was like to have the Temple that I had: the care and maintenance of which was a full-time job for years of my life, spent in humble devotion with my gods, and other gods and spirits not at all “mine” who came through or talked their way into being given space within those hallowed walls. There are precious few true Temples to be found around in our Polytheist communities; that there are some (such as Tess Dawson‘s Canaanite Temple, which I have had the pleasure and blessing of visiting and Working in!) is heartening indeed, but as Sannion once pointed out in his blog, taking care of a real Temple and serving a true Temple Priest is complicated, demanding, and fucking hard. I know this, from the years I spent doing that every single day; Tess Dawson knows this, and the Coru certainly experienced it as they traded shifts throughout the weekend priesting in this blessed space that they erected for the event. While I lay on the Temple’s floor that first night, I wept for my own Temple, whose ashes I carry with me. I communed with the spirit of this Temple — not just the Gods and Heroes and Spirits enshrined and invoked and fed and named, but the spirit of the Temple itself — and I found that we got along well. It seemed to know me as a Temple priest, albeit from a different Temple, and a different sort of Temple, but there was recognition just the same.
I don’t know what the conversations between the Coru priests and members were, as they planned for their Temple. I don’t know what their intentions were, from the start, nor if what they wound up with at the conference was indeed what they had set out to call into being. What I do know, however, is that every single fucking person who stepped into that space — shoes removed, body washed in sacred waters, knees bent in reverence as they entered — was graced with something entirely fucking different than the rest of the weekend could offer, and in most cases I would wager entirely fucking different than what could be brought into being in their own homes and shrine-rooms. There is a difference between a Temple and a shrine-room, between a “dedicated space” and a living, sentient and responsive Temple, which was big enough to contain all of the gods named and a thousand thousand left unnamed and all of the blessed and elevated dead and not a few wandering, misplaced souls (both of the corporeal variety and otherwise), which reverberated from inside with fucking majesty and authentic, lived and experienced divine grace. Others have described the Temple in more detail than I will, here, because I don’t really do descriptions. What I can do, however, is a humble, completely unworthy acknowledgement: what was done with that Temple, by the priests whose care and crafting brought it from possibility to awesome reality and by the gods and spirits who guided and guarded the process, was important. Just as the Saint making from earlier in the day was of concrete, causal importance, the very existence of this Temple represents a thing so often lost in our communities and collective devotions: a present-tense of profound, lived magnificence. There was nothing past-tense or “ancient” or “removed” about this Temple, despite the ancient armaments that adorned most of the shrines: this was not a recreated thing from the past, not a reconstructed diorama or a theatrically reproduced installment. This Temple was fucking alive, not because of what it reminded people of collectively or personally or mythologically or academically or literarily, but because of what it fucking was, in a completely stare-you-down-and-breathe-on-your-neck sort of way. And so I give genuine, heartful praises to all of those who had a hand in its inception, and who guided it through into this world.
As I lay in the darkened space, I became intimately aware of the Morrigan’s eyes upon me. I opened my own, and my vision settled on one of the larger statues upon the main shrine to the Phantom Queen, and a severe comfort came to me; not the comfort of down pillows and warm baths and silk sheets, but the comfort of a rucksack and level ground beneath me and open sky above me (even with eight floors of hotel above…) and the ache of toil in my bones and a sort of stunned joy mixing with grief mixing with a healthy dose of familiarly staggering awe. In this rushing calm, I smiled: the statue was from my Temple, left with trusted priests here in California when I moved. In the shadow of Her phantomed gaze, I felt at home; I slept well that night, forgetting for a time all the business of record-breaking-cold and living in a van and struggling with snow and ice and warming myself with tea-lights and animal skins. For that night, I rested. It wasn’t really sleep, and it was only moderately restful, but it was real rest. For the first time in months, and months, I felt that I had permission to clock the fuck out and just surrender to the Night.
And I was not alone in this. Are any of us, ever?
More to come, as I move into recounting Saturday — which was “the day that liquor didn’t happen!” — which I am hoping to at least get most of written up this evening. With a little help from this bottle of Knappogue Castle 12 year Irish Whiskey, I may just get there…