This year’s Sacred Space and Between the Worlds conferences will be held as a collaborative joint conference between April 9 – 12 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. The two conferences previously collaborated in 2015. The Wild Hunt’s Jake C. Leibowitz sat down with Gwendolyn Reece, a member of the Sacred Space Foundation’s Board of Directors, to discuss the joint conferences.
The Wild Hunt: For those who are not familiar with the conference, what is Sacred Space?
Gwendolyn Reece (GR): Sacred Space is an annual esoteric conference, held in the mid-Atlantic, in which the programs are all designed for an intermediate to advanced audience. Our program includes both workshops and rituals intended for this eclectic, more advanced and experienced audience, as well as social time for community-building.
We consider ourselves to be part of the emerging infrastructure of the Pagan, occult and magical communities in that we provide programming for continuous growth for more advanced practitioners, development opportunities for teachers to share outside their traditions, and incubation for emergent communities of practice, such as the group of Death Doulas who came out of our programming and meet each year at the conference.
TWH: How long has the conference been in existence?
GR: The organization was founded in 1991.
TWH: This year’s gathering is going to be different than usual, as Sacred Space will be running a joint conference with Between the Worlds. What is Between the Worlds and how does working with them change the event?
GR: Between the Worlds is a conference created by the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. It serves as a fundraiser for the New Alexandrian Library project. It occurs irregularly, based upon the astrology. Both conferences offer workshops and rituals intended for an audience of intermediate to advanced practitioners. We are drawing from the same audience, which is why it makes so much sense to work together. We believe that collaboration is a much better model than competition. We are stronger together.
The most significant difference is that the conference is larger, and the program selection is almost doubled. It is like getting two conferences in one. Both conferences have certain “set” pieces and both sets are incorporated. Because BTW is linked to particular astrological moments, the centerpiece of the conference is a significant magical working intended to take advantage of the energies available at a particular moment and with an eye towards addressing the greater needs highlighted by the astrology. Therefore, the BTW main ritual is always of central importance and is not something that Sacred Space normally has.
BTW also has plenary panels, and we will have those. Sacred Space always has a paired opening and closing ritual that both sets the energy for the conference but also enables the magical continuity of the group mind of the conference to journey from year to year. While Sacred Space has a party, the BTW Gala is a specific fundraiser and is usually much fancier than the Sacred Space party.
Mostly, though, it enables us to offer a great conference in collaboration, sharing the organization and staffing and not requiring people with limited funds to choose between the two events.
TWH – This is not the first time that the two conferences have joined forces. Astrologically speaking, what has to happen to bring Sacred Space and Between the Worlds together?
GR – Unfortunately, I am not an astrologer. I do know that we are in a very dangerous hinge moment overall, and have been for a while, and will continue to be for a while. I know that from Apollon, whom I serve. But I do not know the astrology. I had asked Ivo Dominguez, Jr, an Elder of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, to do a write-up so we could explain it:
Throughout 2020 there are numerous significant astrological markers. This BTW conference is intended to prepare us for the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21, 2020 that is also the solstice.
The dates for the conference will be April 9-12, 2020 which is the start of a Jupiter and Pluto conjunction cycle. There will also be a new cycle of Saturn and Pluto conjunctions. A listing of the major astrological events for 2020 with additional information will be available here shortly.
Just shy of every 20 years there is a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn that is significant, but usually not a world changing event. These conjunctions cycle through the Four Elements over the course of about 800 years. In 2020 we move from having Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions in Earth Signs to conjunctions in Air Signs. Each Element cycle takes about 200 years to complete.
What this also means is that we are nearing the end of a cultural cycle that started in the 1840s and ends in 2020. The level of change and upheaval will be astonishing even what has already been a decade of the unprecedented. The desire for change, whether looking forward or backward will be intense at every scale from the individual to the global. No doubt much of the change will be destructive, but there is also great potential for good.
TWH: What are some of the benefits of presenting a joint conference?
GR: Cooperation makes so much sense from an occult perspective as well as a straight-up financial perspective. The goal of Sacred Space is to offer a high-quality conference that meets the continuous development needs of intermediate to advanced esoteric practitioners across traditions.
Our goals each year are simple: to offer a stellar conference and to make enough money so that we can offer a great conference the next year. Between the Worlds probably have several goals, but their financial goal is to cover their costs and make some money to support the New Alexandrian Library. So long as Sacred Space covers its costs for the next conference, we have made our goal—so it makes sense for us to support each other and cost share. I also want to encourage other magical/occult/Pagan groups to consider collaboration, where appropriate.
TWH: Is there overlap among the individuals involved in planning each respective conference?
GR: A little bit. Michael Smith is both an elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and is on the Sacred Space board. He plays roles in both. However, Sacred Space has a stable board and we work all year. We have a bunch of the planning procedures well-established because we do this every year. What we have been doing is just inviting the BTW side to join our monthly planning meetings.
TWH: What is the procedure for choosing which workshop/ritual proposals to include in the conference?
GR: Because of the joint conference, this year is different for us than normal. On normal years, we invite some featured teachers who we ask to provide us with typically four programs. Then we have an open call for proposals. We solicit proposals and have a selection process that is modeled on the process used by academic conferences. We are always looking for several things as we make our selections.
We eliminate anything that does not seem as though it is intended for a more advanced audience. We try to create a balanced program so that we have adequate rituals as well as workshops. We look for topics that are innovative or particularly timely. Sometimes there are tracks that emerge from the selections and we realize that there is some larger need being expressed. (For example, we had two conferences in which themes around death and dying emerged as tracks and, coming out of those, the death doulas emerged). We try to be open and responsive when we see emergent needs.
This year, because Between the Worlds does not do an open call, we decided to use invitations for everyone. We invited our featured teachers (Robin Fennelly, Jason Miller, and Diana Paxson). Then we went through the past five years of conference evaluations, looking at the teachers who received especially high praise. Finally, we identified a couple of topics that we thought were strategically important to address, namely the death midwifery group and Paganism and genderqueer issues and solicited panels to address those topics.
TWH: Are there shopping opportunities available at this event? Absolutely! We also have healers.
GR: What kinds of goods and services will be on offer? There will be books by our authors, art, jewelry, magical tools, stained glass, pottery, clothing, and all sorts of amazing magical things.
TWH: How about opportunities for socializing?
GR: The Gala will be amazing. There will also be an opening reception and also a reception after the main ritual on Friday. Many people also tend to take meals together throughout the weekend.
The 2020 Sacred Space/Between the Worlds Conference runs from April 9-12 at Mariott Hunt Valley in Hunt Valley, MD. Early bird rates for attending the conference end on February 1. Updates and discussion about the varied workshops, rituals, and other programming can be found on their Facebook event page.