Great Conference

Yesterday, I drove to London Ontario to attend the Saturday sessions of the Gathering Mists Pagan Conference. As this was the first year that this conference has ever been held, it had a relatively small turnout. However, as we know, quantity isn’t generally a desirable alternative to quality. And when it comes to quality, I am of the opinion that yesterday’s activities were the cream of the crop. The guest speakers were personable, clearly knowledgeable about the topics they discussed, and communicated that knowledge concisely to those of us not quite so “in the know.” The topics chosen for each workshop were also interesting and engaging.

The first workshop that I attended in the morning was “Bardic Tradition in Ritual,” presented by Greg Currie, aka “Frosty the Pagan.” Frosty discussed the various modes of musical expression from simple rhythm to complex productions where music is combined with various other ritual forms of expression. He also described the various ways in which these forms of musical expression can be used effectively in ritual, from being a “background activity” to being an integral part of the primary activity. Making use of his drum and guitar, he was able to give live demonstrations of some of the concepts he was discussing. The workshop eventually ended with full group participation in singing some chants — including one chant in which two groups sang completely different parts simultneously. As an aside, a fascinating discusison cropped up during this work shop in which everybody discussed the relationship between music and dance, especially the symbiotic relationships that tend to form between dancers and drummers during a good drumming circle.

The next workshop that I attended was “Building Respectful Relationships,” presented by Jennifer Drummond. This workshop primarily focused on becoming aware of how one’s past experiences, culture, family life, and other factors affect the way that you communicate ideas as well as being aware that similar “filters” affect how the perso you are talking to interprets what you say. Jennifer spent some time discussing tools to help with building this awareness and learning to work through the resulting communication problems. She also discussed such topics as setting boundaries and dealing with “triggers” effectively. Because of the size of the group (this is one of those cases where I felt the lower turnout actually worked to the workshop’s advantage), Jennifer was able to learn about attendees’ personal communication experiences and offer specific insights.

The third workshop I attended was “The Implications of Korean Shamanism,” presented by Castalia. In this workshop, Castalia describes the current status of the Korean mansin (pronounced “man-SHEEN”), particularly noting how they have fallen from being highly revered as political advisors to people very low on the socio-economic ladder and Korea’s “dirty lttle secret.” Castalia made a strong case in suggesting that this transition is analogous to what would have happened to European Paganism if Christians in political power had waged a war of attrition against them rather than one of persecution and violence. She also noted a number of similarities in practice and belief between these Korean shamans and the witches of Europe. To do this, she summarized various anthropoligists’ descriptions of the Kut (long U sound), a shamanic rite for exorcising the poisonous spirits from a home and blessing it. Her information was fascinating on many levels, both to see what a vibrant tradition still thrives in Korea (despite being frowned upon and attempts to keep it secret) and to see some of the parallels to modern European revivals and reconstructions.

I would also like to take a moment to mention the main ritual that was held yesterday at the conference, led by Richard and Tamara James, founders of the Wiccan Church of Canada. It was a simple, yet beautiful and touching rite. The phrasing chosen for each part in the rite was filled with skillful beauty that was only matched by the deep love an respect of those who participated. I have participated in a small number public rites, but I’d be hard pressed to think of one that I found as personally touching.

My trip also gave me an excellent chance to socialize, meet old friends, build on aquaintanceships, and meet some new people. I believe that each interraction yesterday enriched my life in one way or another. For that, I will always be thankful.

Overall, I found my experience at Gathering Mists to be enjoyable, engaging, and uplifting. I can only hope that this event will continue for many years. I would encourage anyone who can make it next year to do so. I doubt you will be disappointed.

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