TempleFest, the annual summer festival of the Temple of Witchcraft, was held the weekend of July 29-31 in South Hampton, New Hampshire. The festival was hosted on a privately-owned farm deep in the hills of southern New Hampshire, and on a property guarded by red, white, and black masks of Hecate. Her guardianship seems completely appropriate in this place, which feels like a true crossroads between the everyday world and the world of all thing magickal.TempleFest’s theme is “Spirit, Community, Education,” and there was plenty of each on display throughout the weekend in the form of powerful rituals, mutual support for attendees of all experience levels, and an excellent array of classes and workshops. Approximately 370 attendees from the TempleFest community came together along with special guests to learn and grow, and to also have fun while challenging their minds and hearts.
This was symbolized magickally by the Web of Community – a web of yarn which stood near the center of the grounds. According to Robbi Packard, one of the designers of the web, “The intent behind it is to have a visual representation of how we give and receive from community. To show how we are all connected no matter where we attach ourselves to the web. Each of the cards the participant is to put on one side what it is they give to community, and on the other side what it is that they received from community. As the elements bless the web so are we blessed.”As a featured guest and first-time attendee, David Salisbury was impressed with his experience from the beginning. “I’ve been to Pagan festivals in every region of the country, and my first year at TempleFest truly stood out,” said Salisbury. “As a guest teacher, I was very impressed with the care to detail that the organizers took with every detail.”
Those details began with the very first ceremony. Friday night’s opening ritual was presided over by the Temple’s Aries Minister, Michael Cantone, and his deputies. The leaders cast a circle of protection around the property to ensure safety for all attendees. Deputy Aries Minister Fred Isom evoked the protection of Archangel Michael, and then the sacred fire was kindled.
Representatives from each of the Temple of Witchcraft’s 12 ministries, one representing the archetype of each zodiac sign, charged a log with the blessings of its archetype and placed it into the pit. Participants charged a red crystal point with protection, and the crystal was placed in a cauldron near the sacred fire to send its charge out to the grounds and the people. Additionally, near the end of the ritual, attendees were reminded that the weekend was a spiritual event. They were encouraged to enjoy themselves, but also to keep in mind the sacredness of the weekend, and to use this time as a refuge from this year’s nasty political scene.Then a full slate of classes began. From the beginning, it was clear that the education options were both varied and robust. Friday’s first session included offerings on the triple shadow by author Ivo Dominguez, Jr., as well as sessions on advanced rune technique, Salisbury’s book Cleansing and Clearing, spiritual alchemy, and Faery Tradition teacher Storm Faerywolf’s alignment with the 13 Planes of Progression.
Perhaps selfishly, I attended my wife’s session on “Digging Down to the Roots” through hypnosis, in which she helped her guests identify and explore some of the lesser known roots of the difficult issues in their lives. Judging from the number of people who stayed to ask questions afterward, the session was very effective.
Friday’s second session included a sound medicine journey, a chanting circle led by temple co-founder and Virgo Minister Adam Sartwell, and a mediumship class in which instructor Danielle Dionne taught how techniques from her Spiritualist roots could be used by Witches to communicate with those who have crossed over.
The beautiful Labyrinth Room of the farmhouse, which you really do have to see to believe since it indeed contains a full-sized labyrinth on the tile floor, was packed in a circle three-deep for Dionne’s presentation. She discussed techniques for linking with ancestors on the other side as well as how to provide both “evidence and essence” of the deceased’s presence. She also discussed ethical issues in the practice of mediumship and cautioned that, just because the advice comes from a spirit does not mean it is correct. “Know your dead people,” Dionne cautioned.
The final event of Friday evening was “The Procession of the Fallen Light,” a poetic ritual connecting the stories of three mythological “falls” which allowed the Three Rays of Love, Will, and Wisdom to descend to the Earth. In the dark of night, we made our choice and followed one ray by the light of a lantern to a new circle, claiming the power and light of one of those rays within ourselves.“I particularly enjoyed the fact that this was a very Witch-specific festival, which was a fun change from the usual pan-Pagan environment I’m used to while travelling,” said Salisbury. “While the festival had a specific focus, the diversity of workshops and rituals seemed to hold something for everyone. It was also nice to see offerings that held a deeper focus for experienced practitioners, which is hard to find at public festivals.”
Saturday’s slate of offerings began with a talk by temple co-founder Christopher Penczak on the Mysteries of the Seven Stages of Bread. Penczak led his large audience through the seven key stages of creating bread, and he connected those stages to a progressive process of personal and spiritual evolution. Although he acknowledged that this was a rather advanced concept for some listeners, Penczak also noted that the nature of the mysteries is that one gets from them what one is able to see and process at the time. “Preserve the mysteries. Reveal them often,” he quipped.
After this lecture, the educational program broke back out into sessions. There was more to choose from. I ended up attending Winifred Costello’s presentation of the “Three Realms of the Major Arcana.” Costello is clearly a tarot expert, and she presented her personal method of looking at the Major Arcana as a division of physical, mental, and spiritual portions of the Fool’s Journey. Costello encouraged her attendees to “leave their comfort zone” and always look for new ways to examine the cards.
Saturday was a long day, filled with sessions and rituals. It was punctuated by keynote speaker Judika Illes’ brilliant and humorous presentation entitled “Saints: The Powerful, Generous Dead.” Especially for a person not raised in a Catholic context, Illes knowledge of the saints is both wide and deep. She made a powerful case that saints existed before Christianity, and despite the Catholic Church’s desire to claim them for their own, she emphasized that “Christianity does not own the saints.” Illed detailed a number of them who exist outside of the Christian context and provided an overview on how and why to work with saints, then gave tips on choosing the right saints for particular needs.
Illes enjoyed her time and her audience at TempleFest. “TempleFest was a revelation,” she said. While she arrived somewhat unsure of what to expect, Illes added that, “What I discovered was an amazingly well-organized conference filled with passionate, committed, open-minded, loving people. I felt so incredibly welcomed.”An interesting part of Saturday was a counterpoint between two sessions denoted as “cafes.” On Saturday afternoon, Scorpio Minister Elsa Elliot and one of her deputy ministers, Danielle Dionne, hosted a “death café,” in which folks simply sat down and talked about death over cakes and cookies. Complete with a stuffed, plush Cerberus utilized as a “talking stick,” the conversation proved to be challenging, illuminating, and refreshingly honest.
That evening, the other Deputy Scorpio Minister, Wrentek McGowan, led a “sex café,” with the same basic goals, but with the topic changed to sexuality. Together, the two cafes provided a fantastic experience of talking openly and honestly about two topics which are often considered taboo, but which many Pagans and Witches find sacred.
As a light rain fell on Sunday morning, the day’s highlight was a lively panel on Justice, Hexing, and Activism. Moderated by Penczak, the panel included Illes, Dominguez Jr., Salisbury, Sartwell, and author Courtney Weber. The controversial topic has been discussed around the Pagan blogosphere recently, sometimes leading to anger and insults. This fact made it all the more helpful to have a panel of experienced Witches speaking candidly and sometimes disagreeing politely with each other.
The discussion was full of the complexity and nuance one would expect when wise people come together to discuss a difficult topic. Weber called it “our obligation as citizens to work against injustice.” Yet, she also suggested that it may be better to hex a policy that creates the problem rather than the person who committed it. Salisbury reminded us that justice is “a process,” and just because we can’t see it working does not mean it is not occurring.
The panelists discussed their own ideas of justice. They went deep into the controversies surrounding the casting of hexes, sometimes criticizing the large public calls to send hexes in some cases while often ignoring other instances of injustice. It was one of those situations, much like the two cafes, where everyone knew that some people were made uncomfortable, and yet the airing of ideas and opinions — especially those which conflicted with preconceived notions — both challenged and benefited everyone involved.
Illes cautioned that Witches who seek to curse should take the time to examine their own motivations and the degree of injustice they are battling. “If you think being uncomfortable is suffering, you are so lucky,” she said. “A lump in the throat is not the same as a lump in the breast.” Warning against revenge for revenge’s sake, Dominguez advised that a potential curse should “leave an opening for the person to change and grow.” The target may suffer, but there should be a chance for them to improve as a result.Reactions from those who attended were very positive. Chandra Williams, who traveled from Virginia to attend the festival for the third time, said “This has been my favorite one so far. This year was packed full of so many wonderful choices of workshops that it was hard to choose which to attend.” Another attendee, Karen Ainsworth, who came from the United Kingdom for the second consecutive year, called the it “a truly awesome and magickal experience,” adding that, “My heart is so full of love right now!”
Melisande, who drove to New Hampshire from Prince Edward Island, Canada, “felt very welcome and comfortable. She appreciated the chance to “experience the energy of the rituals,” and the “variety of workshops,” adding that she particularly enjoyed Illes’ keynote speech, calling it “Very engaging as well as informative as she shared some of her knowledge with a good dash of humor.”
Debbie Stellhorn, a Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School student who came in from New Jersey, very much enjoyed a lesser known aspect of the TempleFest: The consecration of mystery school students on Thursday night. She says it was a “chance to meet other temple members and elders in our community and through them I’ve formed lasting friendships. The consecrations themselves are so powerful,” said Stellhorn, “I would make the trip up just to take part in them.”
J.T. Mouradian, who came in from Massachusetts, stated emphatically, “TempleFest 2016 was a profound event. Drumming and dancing with the people I love was empowering. Learning from so many wise people was enlightening. Sitting and talking with the people I love was a priceless blessing.”
TempleFest ended Sunday afternoon. The Web of Community was gathered, blessed, and committed to the fire to send out its blessings as participants said their goodbyes until next year. “At the end of TempleFest, we gather the energy that has been flowing through the web to the center of it, and Alix and Christopher carry it to the sacred fire where is burned and released,” explained Packard. With the magickal work complete, the festival was over for another year.Nicole, the Temple of Witchraft’s Libra Minister and one of the organizers of TempleFest, said that next year will be a new experience. The festival has outgrown its current location and will be moving to a new venue. “We will be moving to a new location, a nature-focused conference center in southern central New Hampshire,” said Nicole. She added that “We are also starting to get requests for invitations to present at TempleFest, so we know the word is out that we put on a good event.”
Attendees agree. Mouradian told the story of his mother coming to one day of the festival. “On the way out,” he explained, “she hugged and thanked me. She said very plainly, ‘You all love one another, J.T.’”
After her first experience with TempleFest, Illes said, “I recommend TempleFest wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest in Witchcraft and Paganism, whether or not they belong to the Temple of Witchcraft. I can’t wait to return.”
Mouradian concluded poetically:
“This weekend I celebrated Life
This weekend I celebrated Love
This weekend I celebrated Magick
This weekend I celebrated Music
This weekend I celebrated Community…
I am proud to call myself a Witch.”
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.