This past Thursday through Sunday was the Sacred Space and Between the Worlds Conference. This particular gathering was a joint venture between two merged events. The Sacred Space Conference is the premier conference for intermediate to advanced practitioners on the East Coast. The Between The Worlds Conference serves a similar audience but is offered at particular intervals aligned with specific astrological events. It always includes a main ritual that is designed to address an important magical need, and the plenary sessions also discuss significant and timely topics. This joint gathering brought the two Conferences and their communities (some shared, some not) together for four incredible days of rituals, workshops, ceremonies, panels, and connection.
I sit in an interesting place for this conference – I am a presenter, one of the Sacred Space Conference board members (the small group of people who run the conference), and, of course, an attendee. So, this reflection will include a few different viewpoints.
Let me start with “I love my community.” I love the Pagan and magical world. I wouldn’t live and work in it full time if I didn’t. Every culture has some stuff, though – some baggage we carry. Some of ours is a little bit of gatekeeping and extra caution around moving deeper into the Mysteries. It’s easy to find entry-level Paganism and basic magical practice instruction at any of our gatherings. You can find that information in books, websites, Youtube tutorials and more. Getting started is not the hard part.
The thing is, after five years, or ten, many of us experience what author and teacher Christopher Penczak calls “hitting the Wiccan wall.” We know the basics. We have our practices. They’re fulfilling and lovely. And also, we’re feeling the call to something deeper but don’t know how or where to find it.
You see, some of us like to drink directly from the spirituality fire hose. I’m one of those crazies and it’s what brought me to the Sacred Space Conference for the first time a decade or so ago. The conference serves an absolutely vital purpose for those of us who are similarly aligned. The material is not for beginners, and that’s what makes it so nourishing and wonderful for those of us who have traveled a distance on this winding path.
I will speak as a board member first: I am just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I joined the board in late 2019 – after that year’s conference and just before the pandemic hit – which means as the baby board member, I’ve helped plan a conference for THREE BLOODY YEARS without having a chance to actually RUN it. Lol.
At this point in my career, I’ve had a part in a lot of different boards for Pagan events and efforts as well as more mundanely focused ones. I can say without hesitation that the Sacred Space Board has been the most wonderful to be part of. The entire board is completely on their game, organized, does what they say they will do, and genuinely wants to help if one of us gets backed up due to life throwing curveballs (while also staying in their respective lanes). The whole thing runs like a clock, and it makes my type-A organizer self SO DAMN HAPPY. I am so grateful for my fellow board members.
From a board member perspective, it was a wonderful conference. All the problems we had were ones outside our control: the hotel itself (the Delta Baltimore Hunt Valley) had some big issues, the largest of which was the air conditioning failing in most of the hotel during an unexpected early spring heat wave. One of our featured presenters also had a last-minute family emergency and was unable to attend. But our stuff? Our stuff ran fine, and I feel we adapted as well as we could to the changing situation at the hotel. We were able to pivot, shift, soothe, support, and still keep the trains running on time. It was a wonderful illustration of how much good people and good preparation make for a good show.
I think the biggest emotion I feel as a board member is gratitude. Everyone waited a long time for this conference and then showed up magnificently. Our presenters, ritual leaders, vendors, attendees, and entertainment were all just fabulous. It was so good to see everyone, so good to share space for learning, and so good to be in ritual together.
As a presenter, I’m really fucking proud of myself. I try to bring my best material to the Conference. I love teaching intermediate to advanced level material – it’s honestly my favorite form to teach – and being able to do so in the Sacred Space environment is a true privilege. I work hard on my content and it was wonderful to see it pay off: packed workshops, great questions, and folks having deep, meaningful experiences.
My conference dance card was busy going in: two 90 minute workshops, two hour-long yoga classes (Chris Farmer and I are the morning movement practice teachers at the conference), and support roles in the opening and closing rituals.
And then Diana Paxson was unable to make it. She’s physically fine, but had a deeply tragic family situation come up. Diana was one of our featured speakers and one of her scheduled offerings was a workshop on the Norse goddess Freyja. When the board convened to figure out how to manage the shift in conference programming, I offered to jump on that particular grenade: I’ve written and taught about Freyja extensively. I am not Diana, but I can certainly offer a workshop and ritual to my Patroness, and I like to think I can do so well.
So, a third 90 minute workshop (this one including a ceremony) went on my dance card. One I had not prepared for.
And then a role in the main ritual (an elaborate ceremony designed for 500) was added.
I love to find my edges and push on them. As usual, I am so grateful I did.
I was also supported – I arrived for setup at the conference on Wednesday with Ash arriving Thursday. Because we staggered arrival in that manner, Ash was able to bring our entire Heathen kit plus a couple reference books with them. My Heathen crew also backed me up (a whole pack of us go to Sacred Space and have a private messaging thread) – mead was acquired, extra figurines and altar decorations appeared, and since the Freyja workshop occurred 15 minutes after I finished teaching a yoga class, I did not even set up the room. My community and beloved spouse stepped up and in to create the container for that offering. Ash and Ursa (another elder in our Kindred) helped with the ritual portion – the blót – as well.
And it went great from my perspective. One participant arrived and was deeply disappointed to discover that Diana was not there. They elected to stay despite that. After the workshop portion, as I filled their cup for the blót, they leaned forward and whispered “you’re doing really good.” Another participant found me later to tell me that they came to the workshop curious, and then afterwards buzzed down to the vendor room to purchase a Freyja statue due to their experience.
So I’m proud of myself. I work hard. It is very satisfying to see that pay off. As ever with me, that hard work was coupled with community support, and the help of my beloved spouse.
As a participant, my only wish is the same one I’ve had for years with this conference: the desire to be able to bilocate. Or trilocate. I was so glad to catch some great workshops, but I wish I could have gone to so many others. When you teach as well as help with setup for things, it means that your available attendance slots get narrow very quickly. I was so glad to learn from Najah Lightfoot, Mat Auryn, and Chris Orapello. One of my beloved friends recorded Groa’s Heathen Ethics workshop so I can watch it later.
The best parts, though? Seeing my friends in person, many of us for the first time since the pandemic. Meeting some of the shining lights in my field and getting a chance to learn from them directly. Standing in sacred space with 500-ish witches and singing our sovereignty into us, and into the world. Dancing with a friend I danced with at high school homecoming. ALL THE HUGS. All the laughter. The thousand moments of resonance and connection and joy. I serve community for a reason – I fucking love this stuff.
There’s one last thread I was weaving while I was there. Because the best time to do some deep personal work is when you’re also up to your ears in programming and helping run a conference, no?
Like I said, I drink directly from the fire hose. I don’t know how to do things gently.
CW in this next section for talking about abuse.
Many of you know that I escaped an abusive marriage around nine years ago. In that marriage, my abuser liked to play puppeteer – he lived through me. Where some abusers try to downplay their victim’s beauty, mine was fixated on it. My weight, clothing, and appearance were strictly policed. I was sent for botox. Outfits were vetoed and replaced with something tighter, lower-cut. I think he liked “owning” something other people coveted. It was a deeply fucked-up scene, y’all.
Those of you who have been through abuse know that it leaves strange marks on the mind. One of mine is about being perceived as sexy or desirable. It’s part of why I stopped wearing color after I escaped and wore such baggy clothes for so long. I wanted to pass unseen. To not attract attention. To downplay my beauty so that it could never contribute to my pain again. I made a mental divider and decided I was no longer going to be beautiful. I was going to fully step into my priest role and abandon that piece of self to the past. It was what I needed at the time.
I’ve been working on reclaiming my beauty in therapy. We made a plan to start trying out more close fitting/flattering clothing in safe spaces where I felt in control. I’ve been testing that out here and there at Frederick CUUPS and Kindred Crow activities. Last season, I hit the stage in a corset for the first time in many years.
So, at Sacred Space, I decided to go for broke: I packed all the “rock star” clothes: leather leggings, sheer tops, snakeskin, heels, boots, curvy couture, the works. I wore makeup every day. I dressed to the nines.
And it was amazing. People I didn’t know walked up to tell me how much they loved my wardrobe choices over the weekend. People I did know but who did not know what the undercurrent was were incredibly supportive and flattering. I felt safe. I felt loved. I felt desirable.
Most importantly, I felt all those things under my *own* control this time. Under my own steam. By my choice and my will. I feel like there was another step forward in my healing process. I was able to show myself that I could step into my beauty and be safe. Safe for days on end. Safe among 600 of us.
One last thought before I wrap this all up. I also saw my community in action when we’re not in our home community. One of the things I love about Frederick CUUPS is that the bonds at the center of the organization are ones of friendship, love, and mutual support first. When some of us were having a hard time, others stepped in to love, soothe, and support. When Ash and I got sucked into the Gala setup, others made sure we had food delivered to us so we could eat. When I suddenly ended up with additional programming, supplies were acquired and provided. When the timing of one of the classes I really wanted to get to interfered with some of my responsibilities, one of us recorded the entire thing and another got extra copies of the handouts. I may have traveled from home for the conference, but home also came with me. I am so grateful for my Pagan family.
Today is recovery: laundry, rest, snuggling the dogs. I’ll adult tomorrow and start managing the accumulated emails and needs. Today, though? Today I get to be proud, exhausted, and full of gratitude.
You should come next year. It’s a damn good conference.