I'm not sure I'll ever understand the rationale behind programming at Pagan Festivals(1). Over the weekend I got a list of workshops approved for Convocation in February. I already knew I was presenting at "Con" several months ago, but I never know what they want me to present until later. I tend to give them a list of workshops and then they pick three or four, perhaps a ritual too. I think this year I gave them a list of six workshops, and they took three of them.
For the last two years I've been working on a presentation called "Vampires Don't Sparkle: A True History of Vampires" and for the past two years I've submitted it to Convocation. I've always thought this would be a good workshop to do at Con (probably because Michelle Belanger presents there and always draws a big crowd), but it's never been accepted. Lecturing on the history of vampires is the kind of workshop I like presenting, because I love rambling on about history, and the topic lends its self to the occasional joke.
I've always believed (but have no proof) that the reason for "Vampires" rejection was because some people might think that I'd use the opportunity to belittle the subject matter. Would I tell jokes? Certainly. Do I think the idea of people calling themselves vampires is a little silly? Perhaps, but it's no more absurd than worshipping Jim Morrison as Dionysus. The truth is, the literary evolution of the vampire is pretty fascinating, especially how vampires have evolved from boogeyman to sympathetic anti-hero. As a kid I was also obsessed with monster movies, and spent a lot of time reading about vampires and werewolves, and how their myths developed.
As a presenter and writer I like to be heard and I like to be read(2). If I'm going to take the time to create a workshop I want a lot of people to listen to it, so I try to come up with topics that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people. That's a challenge for me, because my workshops are generally cerebral, and are often about histories, and there are a lot of people who would rather go to workshops about magic, and various other "how to" type presentations. I get that I'm not everyone's cup of tea (or cider), so the vampire workshop was an attempt to branch out to the "Twilight" crowd, and a different (and perhaps bigger) audience.
I'm sure there are a lot of you out there thinking, "Jason, the reason everyone passes on your vampire workshop is not because of your odd sense of humor, but because it has nothing to do with Paganism." You have a very valid point, however Convocation accepted this workshop:
Bigfoot is Real!
Yes, this isn’t a joke, Bigfoot, the legendary Sasquatch, might actually be more than just a myth. Despite what the scientific establishment has told you, there is a lot of credible evidence pointing towards the existence of a large ape in North America. This workshop looks at the very real evidence-physical and video-that suggests Bigfoot is no fairy tale. You’ll enter a skeptic and leave a believer!(3)
So obviously, they accept non-Pagan workshops. I'm not picking on Convocation here, Con is a wonderful festival, and they've always treated me very (very) well. Hell, I'm flying back to Michigan in February just to go to it, that kind of says it all. It's also just a few days after Pantheacon, another great big Pagan festival that I'll be at (though that one is not definite yet), so I've committed to running myself ragged for a solid week, obviously I love doing this stuff, but that doesn't mean I always understand everything involved behind the scenes.
I will admit that the prospect of talking about Sasquatch has me giddy with anticipation. I can't imagine lots of people showing up for it, but I'm excited none the less. I've been interested in monsters (and yes that includes vampires) since the second grade, back when I thought the Loch Ness Monster was possibly real, and most obviously a plesiosaur. While my belief in Nessie has waned over the years, my desire to explore the strange, the unexplained, and the mysterious never has. That's probably why Modern Paganism appeals to me, it does explore the strange, unexplained, and mysterious. Modern Wicca offers a unique insight into deity absent from the rest of Western Religion, and getting closer to life's big mysteries is a continuing thread in my life.
When most of us think about Modern Wiccan Ritual, we tend to think about calling quarters, casting, a circle, and inviting deity into the circle. Those are all magickal things in their own right, but to me the most incredible part of ritual is Drawing Down the Moon. How many other faiths let you talk to deity? There's something incredibly powerful about the idea of being in a room with the Divine, and not just feeling the presence of the divine, but being able to talk to it, to interact with it.
For the uninitiated Drawing Down the Moon is the process of directly calling deity into a mortal vessel. When a High Priestess (or Priest) draws down the moon she literally draws the Goddess inside of her. Once the Goddess is there, the Priestess is absent, and the Goddess speaks through her Daughter and interacts with those around Her. Think about that, it's truly a "holy shit" moment, a moment that's often lacking from Modern Ritual, Pagan or otherwise.
While Drawing Down the Moon is practically the most awesome think I can conceive of, it's often absent from a lot of Modern Pagan Ritual. There are certainly groups who still make it a central part of their rites, but that seems more like the exception these days. There are a lot of reasons for this. Drawing Down the Moon is hard work, a lot of people aren't ready to do it, and it's not something you generally see at (open) large rituals. It's also such an overwhelming experience for everyone involved (Priestess and circle-mates) that it's generally not a good idea to do in certain (most) circumstances. It's something, by its very nature, that requires well trained clergy.
I had my first experience with Drawing Down the Moon thirteen years ago (?) and it was a real life-changing experience. There were a few things that stand out about it to me. The first were the eyes of my High Priestess/The Lady; they were alien, penetrating, powerful, and nearly drove me to tears. They weren't the eyes of the person/High Priestess who entered the circle with me. The second thing was that I swear She glowed, that there was an artificial light coming up through her skin, making her appear kind of like a ghost in a mostly dark room. Inside of myself I felt like a fraud for ever believing, even if just for a second, that the Goddess wasn't real, and I realized that this was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I'd ever witnessed in my life.
A year later I drew down the God, and did so quite unintentionally. I was High Priesting my second ever Morrison Ritual (yes, I believe absurd things), and as it went along I was rather sure I was nailing it, it just felt right. Of course I'd been working on getting in touch with Dionysus and Jim Morrison for the better part of two weeks: reading nothing but Morrison poetry and Doors' biographies, eating steak (I avoid red meat as a rule), listening to copious amounts of The Doors, and consuming a healthy amount of wine. I had done my research, but I wasn't expecting a transcendent experience.
Somewhere in the middle of that ritual I lost myself. I was told later about the girls I kissed and the jokes I told, and I wish to high hell I could get those memories back, but apparently Dionysus decided he needed some of those. While I was away I remember being warm, happy, and content; it was pleasurable, but not in an orgiastic sort of way, more in that "wrapped up under a warm blanket on an autumn night" kind of way. The skeptics out there have always told me that I was drunk during my moments (twenty minutes or so) of Dionysian Possession, and I'd be lying if I said I had nothing to drink that night, but the amount I consumed was rather minuscule, at least by my standards. So it couldn't have been just that.
Since those two incidents I've drawn down Dionysus on multiple occasions, and have also drawn down Pan a small number of times. I've also witnessed several High Priestesses Draw Down the Lady. Even though I've seen drawing down done a number of times (and been a part of it too), it's still a rare thing. It's not a part of every ritual, and even when it is, it may or may not work (you can't tell deity what to do, deity does what it will). It's one of those moments I'm constantly looking for though, as I attempt to explore those mysterious, unexplained, and strange corners of spirituality, religion, and Modern Paganism specifically.
That curiosity has led me to not just witnessing and participating in Drawing Down the Moon, it has led me to a deeper exploration of the process. It's made me wonder what goes on when people draw down deity, where the idea that you can do something like that originated from, and the origin of the words used in the more common drawing down rites. I decided to turn all of that wondering into a workshop, and while I might be talking about Sasquatch in February, I'm also going to be talking about Drawing Down the Moon:
Drawing Down the Moon: The Mechanics of Invoking Deity
The ritual of "Drawing Down the Moon" has become one of the most important and essential parts of Modern Wicca, but how did the concept and ritual develop, and what is really going on when you "draw down" deity? Mankey explores the history of the Drawing Down ceremony, focusing on its alleged origins in Ancient Greece and how the ceremony has developed in modern times. The differences between invoking and evoking will also be discussed, and what types of energy are associated with each. This workshop also provides information for performing your own "drawing down" ceremonies. One of the major differences between Modern Paganism and other living religions is how close we (Pagans) get to our deities, "drawing down" is the most powerful way to celebrate that closeness.
I haven't been so excited about a workshop in several years, so I'm glad (and relieved) that Convocation chose to accept it. (And if you are reading this and not heading to Michigan in February, it's one I hope to do in a lot of places, sit tight, and it'll be the focus of a few blog posts in the coming months.) My Pagan life is at its most perfect when I can write and talk about the things that excite me, and also experience them in ritual.
1 In a similar vein, I'll never understand why some blog posts are more popular than others. Last week's Jesus Ween post was linked to a number of times and became my most read blog post ever. Truthfully, I thought it was a little weak, but thanks for reading.
2 I love to be read, so if you enjoy a particular blog post, please link to it and share it. It's not all difficult to do, and I'd really appreciate it.
3 Yes, I do (mostly) believe in Bigfoot. The idea that there is an eight foot ape in the Pacific Northwest is rather unbelievable, but there's enough evidence out there that the issue should at least be looked into. Am I believer, yes, could you convince me Bigfoot isn't real? Of course.