HUNT VALLEY, Md. – The 2019 Sacred Space Conference opened at the Hunt Valley Inn on March 21, 2019. “Sacred Space is an annual Pagan and magical conference on the East Coast that is specifically for intermediate and advanced practitioners,” said Gwendolyn Reece, board member, and president of the Sacred Space Foundation. “We consider ourselves to be a part of the emerging infrastructure for Pagans and magical practitioners of all traditions.”
Reece explained that the foundation’s mission is four-fold; offering educational opportunities for more advanced practitioners (though the conference is open to practitioners of any level), acceptance of rituals–which must be open to any attendee–meant for serious practitioners, working to build networks of advanced practitioners across traditions while encouraging the development of communities of practice, and strengthening the corps of teachers who are able to teach advanced material.
Each year, the conference offers programming that includes a variety of workshops and rituals, led by teachers from across the spectrum of the Pagan community, many of whom are based in the Mid-Atlantic region. Teachers and presenters from other parts of the country are also regularly featured at the conference; this year from as far away as Massachusetts, Texas, and California.
The 2019 Featured Presenters were Andras Corban-Arthen, John Beckett, and H. Byron Ballard.
Corban-Arthen is an elder and spiritual director of the Earth Spirit Community, president of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and an advisory board member of the Ecospirituality Foundation.
Beckett, a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin, is well-known for his blog, Under the Ancient Oaks, and is the author of, “The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice”.
Ballard, senior priestess and co-founder of Asheville, NC’s Mother Grove Goddess Temple and the Coalition of Earth Religions, is a prolific author and sought-after speaker who has taught at conferences and festivals throughout the United States and in England.
The workshops were excellent. These three, in particular, struck a strong chord with TWH correspondents who were able to attend the event
Corban-Arthen presented a fascinating workshop, “Lessons from the European Pagan Survivals” where he outlined critical issues we currently face as a community:
- Having a connection with the natural world, growing our own food–be it farming, raising livestock, or hunting–having self-reliance, and that rural peoples understand nature since they must in order to survive. Securing land for use, whether to cultivate or just to use for rituals–owning not the land, but owning the commitment to the land.
- Defining Pagan culture that centers around sustainability and not allowing the default to be that of mainstream culture which is colonization. “Exploring the meaning of the Mysteries… the path through our human life ends at becoming, ourselves, a Mystery.”
- Establishing and maintaining small and interdependent communities.
- Incorporating the sacred into every day life in a way that is seamless integration.
- Taking pilgrimages to sacred spaces and reconnecting with our ancestors.
Hecate Demetersdatter offered interesting insights on the current political state of things with her workshop, “The Magical Battle for America.” Since the 2016 election, Hecate Demetersdatter has offered a weekly action on her blog, hecatedemeter, much like Dion Fortune did during WWII. Her workshop dove deep into the history of women, resistance, and politics and was brilliantly presented, providing plenty of food for thought, as well as action for the politically-minded practitioner. It was also the perfect opening act for the workshop that followed.
Michael M. Hughes’ “Witches Fight Back: Magic as Resistance” dovetailed perfected with Hecate Demetersdatter’s workshop. Hughes began doing a monthly dark moon binding ritual in February of 2017, which eventually inspired him to write a book, Magic for Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change. His workshop provided even more history of magical practices being used in times of political crisis, and detailed his personal experiences in the binding work he continues each month. It was fascinating, inspiring, and even hopeful.
Rituals are an important part of the programming at Sacred Space. Choosing which rituals to put on the schedule at the conference can be challenging.
Reece explained that “Each board member has the rubric of criteria which includes the appropriate (target) audience, originality of content or approach, and logistic alignment.” That last part is vital, given the setting. “We’ve outright rejected bonfire rituals because we are in a hotel,” Reece added.
Decisions about content, however, can be more subjective. Though the board’s goal is to schedule at least one ritual per class time slot, Reece underscored that quality is more important than quantity. “We would rather have fewer rituals than rituals that we don’t think will be appropriate for our audience,” she said. “While there are usually some devotional rituals, I would say that rituals that include a transformative or a specific magical purpose are likely to receive more votes.”
The rituals chosen for the 2019 conference were led by practitioners from an impressive variety of paths. The deities invoked hail from all over the globe, from Hephaestus and Hecate to the Morrigan, Gwydion, and Bridgid. The opening and closing rituals called to Athena and Thoth.
Several of the rituals involved connecting with and honoring ancestors, and many of them centered around the idea of self-healing.
Though it often felt like there was an inter-connectedness at work, Reece explained that the board does not set out to establish a unifying theme, however, “one often emerges based on what people submit.” In fact, several themes emerged when planning the conference. “When that happens, I believe it is arising from need.”
Raven Grimassi Memorial Tribute
In addition to participating in the workshops and rituals, many individuals attended a memorial service to honor the life of Raven Grimassi, founder of the Ash, Birch, and Willow tradition of Witchcraft, and a prolific author. Grimassi, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on March 10, 2019.
His memorial service in Springfield, Massachusetts was also held on Saturday, March 23, the same day as the memorial tribute at the Sacred Space Conference. Grimassi’s career spanned five decades and touched the lives of countless individuals through his books, classes and workshops, and his many appearances at Pagan events all over the United States. Grimassi, with his wife, Stephanie Taylor, have been Featured Presenters at Sacred Space in past years, most recently in 2018.
“Raven and Stephanie were featured teachers at my very first Sacred Space,” said Reece. “Many, many of us have been touched by their teachings, in person and in print. Many of us have been touched by their grace, and some by personal friendship.” Reece went on to describe the effect Grimassi and Taylor have had on the Sacred Space community, as well as the larger Pagan community.
“We do specific magical and personal work as a board and as a community to put Sacred Space under the protection of the laws of sacred hospitality (theoxenia and philoxenia),” she said. “We hold the focus on the work and try, very intentionally, to not have it be about personality. We try to create structures to minimize drama, because it is a distraction to the work. There are a number of our Pagan Elders who embody this kind of commitment and, through their holy service, are models. Raven is one of them. His grace and graciousness as a teacher inspires me and I know he is an inspiration for many in the Sacred Space community.”
Between the Worlds in 2020
In 2020, the Sacred Space Foundation will be partnering with the Delaware-based Assembly of the Sacred Wheel to offer a combined conference. “Between the Worlds is an event, hosted by the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, that functions as a fundraiser for the New Alexandrian Library, and is held at certain astrological times to magically address certain needs,” said Reece. “The intended audience is intermediate to advanced practitioners and it is in the same region [as Sacred Space].”
The Assembly of the Sacred wheel is a recognized Wiccan non-profit religious organization currently comprised of thirteen Mid-Atlantic-area covens. “This will be the second time we will offer a joint conference with Between the Worlds,” said Reece. “What we realized, in 2015, is that we would much rather work together and strengthen each other than to hold two separate conferences and weaken each other. It was a great partnership and we look forward to working with Between the Worlds again.”
Star Bustamonte contributed to the reporting on this article, and provided some of the images used.