07 April, 2017

ConVocation 2017: a Review

Last month, I presented for the first time at a new-to-me spirituality conference, ConVocation.
(from convocation.org)
Located in Detroit, MI, this conference drew quite a large crowd (I wasn't able to get an accurate count from the convention staff, but it may have been close to 1400 attendees this year!).

As my lecture on Coyote's Healing Magic wasn't until Sunday afternoon, I was excited to explore as many classes as I could fit in. There was such a large group of lecturers and presenters at this conference that each 90-minute block had between 9 and 11 different options!

After arriving Thursday afternoon, I attended the Opening Ceremony. Held in one of the larger rooms, it seemed to have almost 300 attendees. The ritual was a bit confusing, as it paid homage to a board member who had recently passed. I could feel the love and energy in the room, but as this was my first year, I felt as though my presence was a bit intrusive (like attending a funeral for someone I had not met).

Once it ended, I had a little over an hour to prepare for the Druidic Council of All Beings, led by Rev. Melissa Hill. Using the groundwork of eco-Buddhist Joanna Macy, Rev. Hill created a deep and powerful ritual that allowed the Spirits of Nature (Soil, Trees, Wetlands, and Coyote) to give voice to Their concerns, disappointment, and Truth. This was an ecstatic ritual, in which four participants "drew down" and "merged" with his/her Nature Spirit (guess which one I worked with? ha ha!). With so much human-caused destruction to the environment, especially the crises in Detroit (and the Flint suburb), the Spirits were full of incredible, painful emotion. Coyote spoke, "I am Coyote, and I pace. I pace because I am in pain, and if I stop, I will have to deal with it..." and then began a keening howl. Rev. Hill guided both facilitators and participants expertly through the difficult-yet-necessary emotions, and the ritual ended with the Spirits of Nature bringing Hope.

The next day, I slept in, needing extra downtime after such a powerful ritual late into the evening. I headed to the Merchant's Room after a delicious breakfast by the hotel restaurant. Of all the different pagan workshops and conferences I've attended, ConVocation has the best merchant room by far! Stones, crystals, tarot, oracle decks, sacred art, runes, candles, oils, wooden wands, ritual garb, statues, books, and my favorite, handmade corsets for sale! I tried very hard not to spend all my per diem funds that day, but it was a close thing...

The next lecture I attended was by Jacki Smith, who I met at Between the Worlds in 2012. She gave a fantastic presentation on the Akashic Records, a spiritual system that I knew of only in passing. Without going into the personal details of the work that Jacki facilitated for each individual attendee, I found her lecture to be very effective, enlightening, and inspired me to purchase her book, in order to help my shamanic clients. She was wonderfully organized, using both written notes and trancework to illustrate her teachings.

At this point in the conference, I was impressed with the wide range of offerings for both beginner and advanced practitioners. I excitedly awaited the next lecture, Astrological Magic of the Picatrix, by John Michael Greer.

Sadly, this lecture was not one of his strongest. I estimated that between 40 and 50 people attended this lecture, as the room was filled to capacity. John sat down at the front, and began reading his lecture notes directly off the page. Not only was he hard to see for a great majority of us, he spoke so rapidly that many of us could not follow his words at all. A few raised hands interrupted his reading, to ask for clarification of his words and examples, but instead of slowing down and explaining concepts, he introduced a new example and sped up his words even faster. I am not sure if he was conscious of this, having attended many amazing lectures by him in the past, but it was disappointing.

The next few blocks of workshops included less advanced work, and more social gatherings. I was interested in attending a few Meet & Greets with different authors, as well as the evening's karaoke. All were wonderful, and most attendees were very excited to make newcomers feel welcome (the MidWest has a great reputation for that, and well-deserved). I went to bed tired-yet-happy, and hopeful for the next day's lectures.

Saturday morning began with a leisurely breakfast before attending Answering the Morrighan's Call, by Amabran. Although this lecture did not have any written notes or slides, I was impressed by how well Amabran stayed on topic, and helped attendees comprehend the many numerous aspects of The Morrighan (a difficult to understand, yet powerful goddess). I left feeling inspired, and instead of attending lunch, retreated to my hotel room to engage in personal shamanic work.

Late Saturday afternoon, I attended Psychic Empathy: Strength or Weakness?, led by Ellen Dugan and Michelle Belanger. In the conferences I've attended, it is somewhat rare to see a topic with two presenters, so I was interested in the different perspectives of each. It was a highly-attended workshop, with around 60 to 70 people, but I was disappointed to see both presenters sit down behind a table at the front (each presenter may have a different style, but it makes it very difficult for the audience to see and hear when they sit down). Both presenters gave grounded and magically-accurate definitions of psychic empathy, when compared to other psychic skills (i.e., clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc.). However, after about only 20 minutes into the 90-minute lecture, they began taking questions from attendees, and the presentation quickly derailed. Many folks wanted to have specific feedback regarding a personal experience, and while this was certainly interesting, I had difficulty learning additional information about this type of skill from these presenters.

Saturday evening followed the pattern of Friday, with less lectures and more social events, including the famed Masquerade! I had brought a fun costume with me, but didn't have the energy to attend. I stayed in to work on my own lecture (later I discovered that Saturday evening started the dreaded Con Crud, ugh!).

On Sunday morning, I attended Gods and Bodhisattvas: Treatment of Deities in Buddhism, by Hwa Son Josh Plucinski. I was excited for this lecture, as I have researched different wrathful deities, but not as many compassionate deities. Hwa Son Josh worked with PowerPoint slides for his lecture, which made it easier to appreciate the gorgeous artwork and statues of Zen Buddhism. But, his room was absolutely freezing (hotel error: the AC was left on all night), and while all of his attendees stayed for the entire lecture, we were pretty miserable...

After his lecture ended, there was a lunch break, in order to give attendees time to check out of the hotel, pack their cars, etc.  I was worried, as my experiences have demonstrated that over half of attendees leave conferences at this time (skipping the final lectures in order to get home sooner).  I had no idea how many folks I would have at my lecture, but prepared as best I could.

Wonderfully, it was standing room only for my lecture, Healing through Laughter! There was a great amount of back-and-forth between the attendees and I, and even a few younger attendees wanted to learn more about Coyote!  My drum stayed in tune during the shamanic journey that I led, and although we had reached the end of the workshop-time, many folks stayed to compare their journeys and symbols with each other.  It was a fantastic time, and I was very excited for folks to learn more about Coyote's magic, love of humanity, and insights as a Spirit of Place.

ConVocation was a wonderful conference for my first time, albeit some small disappointments (everyone has different teaching methods). In comparing this representation of a MidWest conference to those I've attended/presented on the East Coast, I found many similarities in the types of Neopagans, spiritual seekers, and other types of attendees. There is a greater focus on social events each evening, as a way to build community, and while not everyone is comfortable using slides and notes for their lectures (East Coast conferences use these forms much more consistently), I found most of the presenters to be knowledgeable, genuine, and gifted in their fields. Overall, I was pleased with my experience, and would recommend this to both beginners and intermediate practitioners of pagan spirituality.

See you next year!

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