Michigan’s successful 2017 Pagan conference opens with tributes and tears

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DETROIT, Mich – Last weekend at the Dearborn Double Tree Hotel, more than 1,000 delegates gathered for the 22nd annual ConVocation convention. The theme this year was “The Seeker of Wisdom Must Release the Illusion of Knowledge.”
13307469_10154263697582427_7475705600684824875_nConVocation was founded in 1995 by the Magical Education Council (MEC) as a way to bring together practitioners of various spiritual paths and faiths for teaching and the promotion of promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions.

Last May, the Detroit community was shocked to learn of the sudden and untimely death of ConVocation chairperson Michael Wiggins. The MEC board had charged him with the task of shaping the theme for this year’s event. Instead of replacing him with a new con chair, the team decided instead to keep him present in spirit as ConChair-in-Memoriam.

The event kicked off on Thursday evening Feb. 23 with an opening ritual led by members of the MEC board. In a heartfelt and emotional ceremony, the presence of Michael Wiggins was brought through by one of the cons featured presenters Michelle Belanger.

Belanger channeled the spirit of Wiggins as she entered the ritual dressed in Wiggins’ hat, carrying his walking stick, and belting out a jazz classic. She was greeted by tears and applause from the crowd in the hotel ballroom.

Michael Wiggins [Courtesy Photo]

Michael Wiggins [Courtesy Photo]

“I don’t often get nervous, but this was a huge responsibility,” said Belanger in an interview with The Wild Hunt afterwards. “Even if I was able to fully allow him to have a presence in that space, he meant so much to so many of those people that if any part of it felt disingenuous, it would hurt the magic and the weekend for them.

“I pushed that aside and let the magic flow how it needed to flow.”

MEC board member and ConVocation organizer Cindy Wiggins, Wiggins’ wife, spoke a passionate tribute to her late husband. She was surrounded by the rest of the ritual team, who were all dressed in blue – a significant color to Wiggins.

“It was Michael’s traditional public color,” Cindy Wiggins explained after the conference. “His personal inner color actually was yellow, because he was driven very much by his will and so his will chakra and that yellow, dominated his internal energy. But what he generally put on for the public was blue.

“And when he chose a color for almost anything that he was doing on behalf of the community, he chose blue. Partly because he worked so much energy through his voice, and partly because of the calming nature of the color.”

Through this ritual, new comers to ConVocation were able to meet the man who had been such a vital part of the Detroit community, and regular attendees were able to come together as a community to share a moment to honor his memory.

Cindy Wiggins added “It was a very emotional moment, not difficult. This community is so loving and so supportive. I knew they were all holding me up, and helping me speak on behalf of my husband, although he would have been much more eloquent and wordy about it”

Joining Belanger as a conference featured presenter were Kenn Day, EliSheva Nesher, Jacki Smith, Jason Mankey, Andrieh Vitimis, Clifford Hartleigh-Low and Lady Dame.

Following the poweful opening ritual, the rest of the programming kicked off with a bang. This year’s event featured 85 presenters providing 135 class offerings over the four-day event.

“We had a record number of brand new attendees and we also had a significant number of first time presenters,” said Cindy Wiggins “I am thrilled with how the convention came out”

One of these first time presenters was the multi-talented artist, dancer, author, designer and witch, Laura Tempest Zakroff. She was impressed with her first visit to the convention and the response to the class she taught.

Laura Tempest Zakroff's booth at ConVocation (courtesy photo)

Laura Tempest Zakroff’s booth at ConVocation [Courtesy photo]

“It was my first time presenting at ConVo and the response was tremendous to The Art of Sigil Magick. The room was overflowing (about 70 people in a room set for around 50 I would guess) and the attendees were very enthusiastic and engaged,” Zakroff said. “I also assisted Jason Mankey with his Witch Cult ritual – which was also extremely well-attended and people seemed to enjoy it.”

In addition to his ritual based on the writing’s of Margaret Murray, author and Patheos Pagan channel manager Jason Mankey delivered two workshops, which both delve into the history of Wica and Witchcraft.

Another notable feature of the con was the art room. It offered artists their own dedicated space, completely independent from the merchant bazaar. ConVocation supports the artists by offering staff to manage the sales in this unique area. Zakroff took advantage of the opportunity to feature her work in this space:

“Normally I’m running a booth at conventions, so being able to set up my artwork and have someone else manage all of the details was such a joy. My work had wonderful placement, and the staff were super friendly and supportive.”

Zakroff added, “For such a small room, there was a LOT of interesting and diverse art in there! It was also in close proximity to the main area and the vendor room, so it wasn’t far off the beaten path – which often is the fate of many art shows. They also had plenty of signage for it as well.”

The first of the three guests of honor at this year’s event were Ellen Dugan, who gave workshops on not only witchcraft, but also on character development in fiction writing. This session, titled The Writers Craft, was co-presented with Michelle Belanger.

John Micheal Greer was another notable first-time presenter this year. He delivered classes on magical training and astrological magic, as well as hosting a meet-and-greet.

ConVocation presenters Kerr Cuhulain and Jason Mankey [Courtesy photo]

ConVocation presenters Kerr Cuhulain and Jason Mankey [Courtesy photo]

Returning once again to speak at ConVocation was Canadian author Kerr Cuhulain. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he reflected on this visit through the lens of a tourist.

“I last attended this festival in 2014 and 2015 (and several times in years previous). I found the energy to be noticeably subdued compared to previous years,” Cuhulain observed. “Judging from the comments made to me by people I spoke to this year, I attribute this to anxiety over what the current administration in the U.S. is up to. Also, people miss long time board member Michael Wiggins, who passed away a few months ago. He is missed.”

Among Cuhulain’s many workshops was Dealing With Hate Crimes, which forms the basis for a class he teaches periodically at Ardantane, an online magical learning center.

“I didn’t think that when I retired from law enforcement years ago that I’d be called upon to teach a lecture on how to deal with hate crimes again.”

However, the attendance and demand for this class both online and at ConVocation revealed to him the need for this information in our current political climate. “You could cut the political tension with a knife,” he commented.

Planning for the 2018 ConVocation event is already underway. The theme next year will be “The Strength to See the Details Behind the Big Picture.” The organizational team has already announced a transition meeting that will be held back at the same DoubleTree Hotel Sunday March 26 at 3:00 pm. This meeting will be open to the general public so everyone can see just what’s in store for next year.