Temple Priests and Hospitality Vikings : The Role of Hospitality and Sacred Space at Pantheacon

 

This year was my fifth year attending Pantheacon, one of the largest Pagan gatherings in the world and one of the Coru’s most involved events of the year.  Pantheacon is an overwhelming and powerful event.  It’s a place to learn from brilliant minds and to attend rituals and ceremonies presented by an abundance of traditions and groups.  It’s a gathering of tribes, covens, traditions, and families.  It’s a bizarre concentration of potent and powerful people, spirits, and Gods set in a semi generic chain hotel in an corporate center next to a major airport.  Pantheacon is overwhelming, an energetic minefield and a maelstrom of energy……and Pantheacon has a hygiene problem.

I don’t mean that Pantheacon is dirty, the hotel and the con staff do an extraordinary job of maintaining the event.  The Doubletree is a decent hotel and the staff are excellent.  The Pantheacon staff itself are absolutely amazing as well and are clearly dedicated to making the environment there a safe and welcoming place to all.  And when I say that the Con has a hygiene problem I’m also not speaking about germs, although the con crud was brutal this year and if you go in the future I highly recommend doing everything you can to bolster your immune system and be conscious of the risk of flu.  The hygiene that I’m referring to is spiritual and psychic hygiene.

My first Pantheacon was a bit of a shock for me.  I had spent the previous seven years of my life living in remote regions in the Sierra Nevada mountains far away from most human contact.  I tend to prefer solitude and wilderness to cities and neighbors and find that I would rather deal with regular visits from bears, foxes and spirits than I would from strangers or solicitors.  My spiritual practice, which was always there with me, was strictly solitary.  I had some close friends, I had some allies, but for the most part my work was done alone.

That all changed about five years ago.  Circumstances were shifted, fates were rewoven, and a fiercely powerful Celtic Goddess grabbed me by the scruff of my neck with corvid talons and shook me back into action, called me into service.  Soon after that call I found myself walking through the doors of the San Jose Doubletree and into the energetic pandemonium that is Pantheacon and it was beyond overwhelming.

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Main Altar : Temple of the Morrigan  photo by Joe Perri

You see, there are far more attendants at Pantheacon than the 2000 – 3000 human guests.  An event like the Con, this gathering of magically potent people and seekers, also has a large population of non corporeal beings that gravitate to it.  People knowingly and unknowingly bring multitudes of spirits, hosts of ancestors, and pantheons of Gods to the event.  As well as that host, the energy of the Con acts as a beacon for every wandering or wayward spirit in the area, and at a place of crossroads like a hotel or airport, those spirits are multitude.

In an environment like this, hospitality is immensely important.  There needs to be hospitality for the humans and hospitality for Gods as well as space for the spirits and the wandering dead.  At this convocation of the worlds, hospitality must flow between the realms as well as between the people.

Hospitality suites are immensely important to the human community at Pantheacon.  They provide spaces for individuals and different groups and traditions to meet and get to know each other.  They provide spaces for smaller workshops and meetings to take place in, and they also provide essential places for people to rest and relax in private and more intimate places than the rest of the hotel.  I have also found that the  hospitality in some of these suites can be somewhat elusive.  I have often had the experience of walking into a group’s hospitality suite and finding it occupied by a small group of people engaged in conversation, ignoring visitors.  While I understand that the nature of the event makes for an environment of busy socializing and over stimulation, this act of being so involved with friends that you ignore guests and visitors is actually poor hospitality.

It can be difficult maintaining that level of hospitality while also being pulled in multiple directions and trying to take care of your own needs.  The nature of the event means that things will be missed and people ignored.  We never seem to have the time to spend time with everyone that we want to, but we should always be striving to improve and make those connections while also keeping an eye open for the stranger crossing our threshold looking for aid or company.

 

 

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Shrine to Nuada and Scathach : photo by Joe Perri

Hospitality means being greeted  by a welcoming face, an offer of food and drink, a warm conversation.  Hospitality demands connection and engagement and in a spirit rich environment like Pantheacon, hospitality should extend to the spirit community, to our ancestors and the dead, and most importantly, to our Gods.  The Coru’s Hospitality suite and the Temple of the Morrigan arose to meet the combined needs of hospitality to the the community as well as hospitality to the community of Gods, spirits, and ancestors with which we share our world.

Each year we have made changes and improvements to the way we run our hospitality suite with the goal of making it a safer and more welcoming space for everyone.  Our first year we had ourselves scheduled so fully that we were unable to provide the type of connection and personal conversations with the community that we were striving for.  To address this problem we found it helpful to have a person on staff during our open hours whose sole job is was to maintain hospitality.  Someone whose job it was to simply welcome everyone walking into the room and offer them a drink and a bite to eat, a Briugu, an ancient Irish term for hospitalier, or in the case of the Coru suite at Pantheacon this year, a Hospitality Viking.

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Hospitality Dream Team:  Hospitality Viking (Grant Guindon) and Dagda Priest (Jon O’Sullivan) in the Coru Suite  : photo by Joe Perri

The other step that we have taken in order to create and maintain a safe space was to create a very clear and enforceable Statement of Hospitality and Safety. This was created in response to members of marginalized communities within the larger Pagan community feeling unsafe and unwelcome in a number of rituals, workshops, and hospitality suites at the Con.  Our community is not free of issues like racism, transphobia, and sexual predators, and by creating and posting a clear statement that these attitudes will not be tolerated in our suite, we can start to maintain a space where people can feel safe without fear of attacks, alienation, and the microaggressions that come with unexamined language.  This type of statement is essential because not only does it make the language of what is and what isn’t acceptable in our space very clear and unambiguous, making it more unlikely for someone to come in an break that code, but it also makes a statement to anyone at the Con that they are welcome and that their safety and comfort will be maintained.

The Temple of the Morrigan was created for a parallel purpose. It was created to provide a sacred space, an area warded and set apart from the rest of the convention where people can spend time in communion with the Gods.  Where the hospitality suite is created and maintained for the human community, the Temple is created and maintained as a nexus between the community of spirits and Gods and the community of the living.  It’s a place for us to offer the Gods our hospitality and in return are treated to the hospitality of the Gods, a quiet place, where one can sit in the presence of the unseen and the divine.  It has also become a place for anyone who is experiencing spiritual trauma to find safety and a trained priest to help them navigate their experiences.  Over the past few years, the Coru Temple priests and those that aid us have had a variety of challenges walk through our door.  The nature of the Temple and its staff creates a safe space for people having intense experiences to find shelter and aid there.  Because we are one of the only types of space like this at Pantheacon and the fact that we have trained priests on duty there, it allows people going through events such as spirit possession, possession by Gods (Celtic and other), psychic assault, emotional breakdowns to have a safe space and allows the wandering and lost spirits and the dead, to all cross the threshold of the Temple and seek aid.  Having trained and skilled priests, people with skills at spirit work as well as pastoral care, is critical to keeping a space like the Temple safe for all.

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Brigid’s Shrine : photo by Joe Perri

This hospitality, this hospitality to the community, to the spirits, to the Gods, requires attending to.  It requires work and it requires devotion.  It requires dedicated staff and trained priests and spirit workers.  It requires time, and energy, and planning.   It requires commitment and it requires financial support.  These spaces add to the richness and depth of the Pantheacon experience.  They are places for us to share with our Gods and for us to share the richness of our Gods with each other.  I would like to see a number of Temples and sacred spaces arise each year at Pantheacon, each group honoring their Gods in their own way.  I would like to see more priests and more devotees there to share the beauty and power of their traditions and cultures with each other.  I would like to see Pantheacon full of Temples, temple priests, and hospitality vikings.  For we are better as a community when we recognize the need for true hospitality for all, living and dead, seen and unseen, mortal and divine.  We are better as a community when we build connections and learn from each other.  We are better as a community when we are of service to each other.

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photo by Joe Perri

Pantheacon Fallout and the Seeds of Community 

Witchcraft is a tool against oppressors. It sides with the oppressors at its own peril, for power is ever fickle, and our gifts ever mistrusted by the bullies and abusers who would make our power their own.

Practitioners of a racist Witchcraft, or a homophobic Witchcraft, or a transphobic Witchcraft, or an ableist Witchcraft, do not understand Witchcraft. Witchcraft is a gift to the oppressed, not the comfortable.  – Jason Thomas Pitzl “Witchcraft Today, Witchcraft Tomorrow A Manifesto”

Mural in Oakland, CA

Mural in Oakland, CA

I watched a battle goddess shake the foundations of my community and expose our weak points.  For the sake of honesty I have to say, I did more than watch.  I aided, I assisted, I called Her name,  honored Her, gave Her offerings.  I asked Her to open our eyes to the battlefield that we are all standing on today, the battlefield that we tell ourselves doesn’t exist.  The battle that won’t be won by generals, or scholars, advanced weapons or technologies.  The battle that if we are to survive, we will survive by raising each other up and building strong and open communities together.  For we rise not by political structures or by wise governance, we rise by reaching out and grabbing the hand of our neighbor,  We all rise together.

The dust is starting to settle from Pantheacon and people are assessing the stress fractures in their hearts, minds and belief systems.  In some ways, Pantheacon is a gathering of individuals each searching for their own taste of the sacred, in other ways it is a gathering of tribes, a place for diverse traditions of spirituality to meet as a community.  A place for us to meet face to face rather than on blogs and Facebook posts.  A place to learn and share with each other, common ground on which to build our future….for 5 days a year.

For some, the event is a place to escape their day-to-day lives and immerse themselves in magic, and costumes, and parties.  And there is nothing wrong with this, provided you remember that there are predators as well as fairies in the night, and keep your wits about you, especially during the hours when the hungry ghosts walk the halls.  But there is more to our shared community than parties and costumes, and hopefully more to our spirituality than that too.  Community is not something that happens because people have similar ideas, it is working and living relationships that we have with each other, with the spirits, and with the gods.  Community is work, and it is processing, and it is uncomfortable self-reflection, and it is compromise.  It is an ongoing dialectical process between many different individuals, and many different philosophies, and many different cultures.  And that is a good thing.

Mural in Oakland,CA

Mural in Oakland,CA

The weak spots in our community are a reflection of the weak spots in our larger society.  As our country struggles with the demons of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, among a multitude of others, we Pagans, as a microcosm of the larger society, struggle with those same demons…   and its frustrating for us.   Just like some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from the drudgery of their mundane lives, some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from these demons as well,  to distance themselves from the debates on racism, or to be in a place where they wont have racist behaviors thrown in their face,  a space where they wont be challenged about their privilege, or a space where they can be safe to be themselves without fear of rejection, or violence against them.  But we can’t get away from these issues, because Pantheacon does not exist in a vacuum, and they exist in our community as well, and it is our duty, as members of the community, and as human beings, and as a collection of religious communities, to face these issues and to confront them and to work together to create a stronger, more just and welcoming community.

People must rule themselves; there’s no other way.  We cannot hope for benevolent dictators or kind benefactors to end our suffering and fractiousness and abuse.  No great ruler will make racism go away, no brilliant queen will re-grow the forests.

We beg the government to give us recognition, to restrain the police they hire to kill us, to protect our sexual preferences and drinking water and children from the very same abusers who bankroll their political campaigns.  The answer isn’t the coin, it’s the fucking soul, the reclaiming of our sovereignty not just as will-to-power but responsibility-to-love.   – Rhyd Wildermuth “Perceval”

When I see that battlefield that we are all on and apprise the situation, I see a path to victory, a path to a better place.  A place of justice and healing of wounds.  A place of abundance, with healthy seas, nature restored, food, shelter and dignity for all.   A world of people in rightful relationship with the land, with the gods and most importantly with each other.  A future of wealth for children, of children well learned, of tales told in poetry, a future of honor.  And I see this path because I see the strength in our community, the people who won’t sit idle and accept things the way they are, the people who tirelessly and ceaselessly hold us accountable for our mistakes, who sometimes gently and sometimes fiercely confront attitudes in our community and in themselves that mindlessly harm others.   Because the first step towards this rewoven future is facing these toxic attitudes within ourselves and learning how to address and overcome them and a large part of that process involves actually listening to marginalized communities.  Straight, white people are not the saviors of marginalized people and we will not be rescuing anyone.  We are all partners in this community and we must allow everyone their voice and listen to their experiences.  Unexamined ego and privilege has no place in the creation of a better society and those who refuse to see past their own, will find themselves rapidly losing credibility and relevance as the community steps past them, seeking a more just and egalitarian future.

Hospitality, Ally Support, and Pantheacon Looming

Ally

In two days we head down to San Jose for Pantheacon.  For the Coru, this is one of the biggest and most involved events that we participate in and has been pivotal in the founding of our Priesthood.  Because of its imminence, this weeks post will be brief and focus on what we are going to be offering at the event and some thoughts around it.

First of all, the Coru just released our Hospitality and Safety Statement that applies not only to this convention, but to all events the Coru are part of.  At Patheacon, we will be having a hospitality suite for people to be able to come and meet us and ask us any questions that they might have, and we will also be maintaining a Temple space for the Morrigan and related deities for the public to have access to.  We feel that our Hospitality and Safety statement is necessary to ensure that both the hospitality suite and the Temple remain a safe and welcoming space for all.  As regrettable as the necessity of a statement like this is, after reading the final draft, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of pride for the members of my priesthood for creating a document such as this and for always taking a stand for justice.

“Everyone should feel and be safe. Creating a welcoming, safe, supportive, inclusive, consent-based space for all peoples is just one of the necessary ways hospitality must manifest in today’s society so that all people everywhere may thrive in safety. It’s our responsibility to leave this world better than we inherited it through mindful, thoughtful, and heart-filled care and stewardship. This is one more way we honor our ancestors while amending and healing the consequences of mistakes in the shared history of our collective pasts. These are the gifts we seek to leave to our descendants – so that they may thrive in love and safety.

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood respects and welcomes all persons regardless of color, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, size, class, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

We have an individual and shared responsibility to guard against behaviors that demean or otherwise harm individuals. Because these actions not only harm individuals, they impact and harm our community as a whole. We will not tolerate prejudice and discrimination’s legacy of hate. Unsafe behaviors and words, including but not limited to racism, sexism, ageism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, ethnicism, sizeism, ableism and other prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated. We insist on consent before touching anyone’s person or property in order that our suite and Temple remain safe spaces for all attendees. Violations of this policy will be considered an infringement against our hospitality, and offenders may be asked to leave.

In solidarity.

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood”

Our two biggest undertakings at the Con are going to be the Temple of the Morrigan, which will have open hours every day from Friday night to Sunday night for the public to visit, and our main ritual,  The Morrigan Speaks: Arise to the Battle, is slated for Saturday night at 7 pm in the Oak ballroom.

Last year was the first year that we had the temple at the event and it turned out to be an amazing facet to the whole experience of Pantheacon.  To have a dedicated sacred space in the midst of the chaos of the convention was like finding shelter during a raging storm.  It provided a quiet, contemplative refuge in the energetic whirlwinds that make up the rest of the hotel that weekend.  Others have written about their experiences last year and I’d like to provide links to their impressions of the temple.  First from Morpheus on her blog “The Foundations of the Temple” and next from the Illustrious John Beckett  “Temple of the Morrigan

We will also be having a Coru Meet and Greet party in our hospitality suite on Sunday night at 7 pm with a premiere of the Poems of the Morrigan recording project in the Temple room at 9 pm.  The recording project came about during the funding campaign for Morpheus’s upcoming book on the Morrigan, The Book of the Great Queen.  It consists of the Morrigan’s poetry, in the original Irish and in English, as well as a few chants and a song.  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing these recordings and they are moving and powerful.

Other events that are being put on by Coru members are Poetess and Prophetess: The Morrigan and Poetry, put on by Morpheus and Rynn Fox, and a Woman’s Self Defense class, taught by Scott Rowe and Amelia Hogan Sunday at 9 am in Pine room.  As well as the third year of the Blood Drive that we helped to create.

So it’s gearing up to be a great year at Pantheacon, I hope to get the chance to meet some of you there.