Changing Times—Changing Worlds: the metaphysical conference no one knows about

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KERHONKSON, N.Y. — For a conference started by “two little old ladies who didn’t know what they were doing,” Changing Times—Changing Worlds (CTCW) has all the hallmarks of an event that is poised to grow. Despite that description written by co-founder Tchipakkan, CTCW has many of the elements of much larger events, and this year its presenters offered a variety of in-depth topics such that can’t be easily found in books or blogs.

Those two “little old ladies” were Tchipakkan herself, an “electic Pagan-Heathen-rustic,” and Jane Sibley, a Norse practitioner sometimes known as “Auntie Arwen.”

However, the professional details and little extras present in this conference belie those self-deprecating words.

Tchipakkan claims they didn’t know what they were doing because it has taken awhile to find a venue which feels like it would  be a good fit for the long haul. They chose one of the last remaining Borscht Belt hotels located in the Catskills, which now known as the Hudson Valley Resort.

Perhaps the most important thing that was decided when CTCW was founded, Tchipakkan explained, was “we were going to start it, and then hand it off.” She and Sibley both have seen many conferences along the East Coast which have emerged, thrived for a period of years, and vanished when their founders burned out.

“I’ve watched the people who started Esotericon and Etheracon do that to themselves, and we didn’t want that,” she said.

Now in its eighth year, the co-founders are involved and helpful. Sibley oversaw the hospitality suite this year, while Tchipakkan managed the conference blog, but the organizational reins are no longer in their hands.

CTCW swag bag [Terence P Ward]

As for the experience of attending the conference, this event is one that feels very professional, yet entirely welcoming. That begins with check-in table, where conference attendees get a swag bag that would be worthy of a much larger event. In addition, attendees get a schedule with a map of the hotel’s labyrinthine hallways and spacious grounds, a program that contains workshop and panel descriptions, and a name badge, which included color-coded stickers for hug and photography acceptance. For this reporter, the badge included a ribbon warning others of his press status.

There were a number of samples from vendors ranging from stones to incense to temporary tattoos. Also included was an eight of cups from the tarot, acknowledging both how long the conference has been going on, and the state of mind many attendees may have arrived with given the uncertain state of the world stage.

The eight-story Hudson Valley Resort was largely unoccupied other than the conference, and Tchipakkan believes that this simply means there is a lot of room into which to grow. Evidence of what that might look like could be found in the fact that those plying their trades could not fit in just one of the ball rooms set aside for them.

Smaller vendors were right off the main lobby, but there was also a “dealers’ row” of rooms on the sixth floor. Each room was a shop unto itself where merchandise, healing sessions, and divination were all offered in some combination. Readers and psychics had another room, quieter, to ply their trades.

While it appeared the majority of attendees this year practiced some form of alternative spirituality, Tchipakkan explained that the vision for CTCW is to bring together people with common interests in metaphysical phenomena, regardless of their personal beliefs about the source of these phenomena.

“I think the name of the conference is terrible,” she said. “I wanted to call it, ‘This [expletive deleted] is Real!'”

Tchipakkan [Terence P Ward]

No shortage of shamans, healers, diviners, and ritualists were in attendance, but the hope is to include more Christian mystics, dowsers, parapsychologists, and others who work with these forces, whether they call themselves Pagan or not.

As such its focus is different from Pantheacon as an example, but Tchipakkan believes it could be every bit as prominent in the future. All that’s holding it back, she said, is that “none of us know much about marketing.”

Despite that lack of knowledge, organizers managed to provide a wide variety of advanced lectures and workshops, including one on marketing a metaphysical business. Other sessions included what to do when faced with a “challenging” reading with a divination client, a discussion on ancestor veneration, and a separate ancestor ritual, angelic alchemy, communicating with gods, discussions on ecstatic ritual and altered states, and divination workshops that ranged from introducing new techniques to designing one’s one tarot deck.

Tchipakkan is a big fan of panels, because they allow topics to be discussed from a number of different perspectives and thus tend to draw people in. This year, topics included working with problematic ancestors, one each on city and house spirits, communion with the gods, magical ethics, complex trauma, rearing child in a psychic or magical household, and how sacred hospitality works in a multi-cultural world.

The panels are consciously set up to be less formal than those at other conferences and were held in a circle of couches rather than behind a formal table.

Over three days, attendees were able to dig into various subjects at length. But, at the same time, they also had the opportunity to ratchet back in a quiet room or simply joy conversation and excellent coffee — courtesy of Auntie Arwen — in the hospitality suite.

It’s not quite Pantheacon yet, but Changing Times—Changing Worlds certainly fits one of its tag lines, the “Northeast’s friendliest metaphysical conference,” without that becoming a euphemism for poor organization. Like the friendliness, the professionalism is not a veneer: this is a conference where the foundation is solid, the teaching is deep, and the company is memorable at every meal.