Event Spotlight

 

Gwendolyn Reece

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Sacred Space:
TWPT Talks with Gwendolyn Reece


TWPT:  To start off, please tell us a little bit about yourself.  

GR:  I believe in reincarnation.  It is the only way I make sense to myself.  I believe that I came into this life with pre-existing relationships with the Theoi (ancient Greek Gods).  When I was very young (by the time I was six), I was deeply engaged in a relationship with Artemis, especially.  I have been obsessed with Greece my whole life—long before I knew there was a contemporary Pagan movement.  I learned about other Pagans in the mid-80’s and began identifying as a Pagan and a Witch at that point.  I am also a Theosophist and have been teaching within the society for many years.  I am a high priestess in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel 

I believe that I was asked to do particular work on behalf of Apollon and Athena and accepted that work.  I serve them in Washington, DC through Theophania Temple.  Through the temple, I offer oracular rituals for Apollon, rituals for the good of the polis, and a monthly philosophical study circle.  I have also led a couple of groups of Pagans on tours of Greece.  If you were to ask me at any given moment what I am thinking about, there is a good chance the answer has something to do with Greece. 

I have been the President of the Sacred Space Foundation for almost a decade.  I also am a scholar and publish academic sociological research on Pagans/Witches/Heathens. 

 

Robin Fennelly is a Third Degree Initiate within the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition and serves as High Priestess of the Coven of the Mystic Path within the ASW. Her spiritual journey spans four decades and is strongly rooted in both Eastern philosophy and the Western Magickal systems. Robin has been active in the pagan community for 20+ years teaching, writing, leading ritual and maintaining a rigorous teaching schedule. Her writings and books have been featured online and in print internationally. She has taught extensively throughout the Pagan community, including Sacred Space Conferences, Spring Magick, Free Spirit Gathering, Pagan Pride Events, Between the Worlds Interfaith Conferences, and more. Robin lives in Eastern PA and works in the field of public education. http://www.robinfennelly.com

TWPT:  You also work with the events associated with Sacred Space.  Would you give us a brief overview of your association and what you do with Sacred Space? 

GR:  I am the President of the Sacred Space Foundation, which is the volunteer non-profit organization that produces the Sacred Space Conference annually, and sometimes some additional, smaller events, like hosting Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki for an extended weekend. 

I have been on the board of Sacred Space since I think 2008 or 2009.  My role as President is essentially project management.  We work as a team of volunteers where we each have our work that we do, but critical decisions are made through group processes.  I facilitate our monthly meetings.  I also handle the negotiations as point of contact with the hotel and make all of the arrangements with our featured teachers.  I handle most of the external communication, except for the contacts with the vendors/healers, which is done by our vendor/healer coordinator, and the communication with the volunteers, which is handled by our volunteer coordinator.  I manage the website and I do a lot of the social media outreach, although all the board members are encouraged to help with that.  I am also the one that keeps an eye on everything and tries to make sure that all of the pieces are moving.   

One of the things that I have emphasized throughout my involvement in Sacred Space and that our board is good about understanding is that we are a small, working, volunteer board and that, therefore, we need to be especially transparent with each other and not afraid to ask for help if we need to do so.  At any given point in time in small organizations, someone may have something come up unexpectedly and we try to make sure that we can pick up for any member of the board at a moment’s notice.  Sacred Space is a team effort and we have a good, functioning team.  Putting on the conference is a lot of work, though.  If you add up the time, most of us are adding the equivalent of about an additional month of work to the year, but I know we are all happy to do this to serve the community.   

TWPT:  What is the Sacred Space Event? 

GR:  Sacred Space has been going on for over thirty years.  It began as Ecumenicon and then split from it long before I was around.  I don’t know all of the history but when I became involved it had been running for many years.  The Sacred Space Foundation is a 501(c)3 that presents the conference. Sacred Space is an annual gathering of Pagan, magical and esoteric practitioners held in April in the Baltimore/DC area.  The conference always runs from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon and includes workshops and rituals.   All of the programming is intended for intermediate to advanced practitioners—we do not accept anything for beginners.  Some of our teachers who teach across the country have told us that they especially like teaching at Sacred Space because they can assume that the attendees have enough background that they can go into more depth and teach things that they cannot teach at other venues. 

Sacred Space is part of the emerging infrastructure catering to the continuous development of more experienced practitioners, which encourages the development of cross-tradition communities of practice.  For example, we have a formal community of practice—the Sacred Space Death Doulas—that organically arose out of our programming.  Sacred Space is a venue for advanced practitioners to come together, share and converse, which leads to the development of new knowledge, skills and insights, similar to the way in which academic conferences bring together advanced practitioners and their interactions help “the field” develop.  Most years we invite three featured teachers and then we have an open call for presentation proposals and make choices using a modification of an academic “peer review” process.  Part of the reason for this is also to help develop additional teachers.  This year (2020) is different because we are hosting a joint conference with the Between the Worlds Conference.  

 

Jason Miller (Inominandum) has devoted 30 years to studying practical magic in its many forms. He is the author of the now classic Protection and Reversal Magick as well as several other books. His most recent work is The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery. He teaches a number of courses online including the Strategic Sorcery Training Course, The Black School of St Cyprian, and The Sorcery of Hekate.

He’s belonged to a few groups, traveled to a few magical hotspots, and been initiated into this and that, none of which is very important. What is important is that he can do magic that actually works. More to the point, his students tell him he can teach them magic that works. If you still want the impressive list of groups, initiations, ordinations, and photos you can find them at http://www.strategicsorcery.net ., along with stuff that actually might be useful like his blog, newsletter, and course info.

TWPT:  What is the theme, if any, for next year’s event? What is the focus for the event? What is Sacred Space going to be about in 2020? 

GR:  2020 is a special year in that we are holding a joint conference with the Between the Worlds Conference.  We have done this collaboration once before to great success.  Our reason for the collaboration, and one that we would hold up as an example to other organizations, is that the Between the Worlds Conference is held irregularly based upon astrology, but it is in the same region and also only offers programs for more advanced practitioners.  Rather than compete, we decided to cooperate and offer the equivalent of two conferences at once and cost-share.  As such, we will do things a bit differently this year to meet the needs of both organizations.  All of our programming this year is by invitation rather than having an open call.  The Between the Worlds Conference is offered at times in which the astrology suggests that there are needs for magical intervention and Between the Worlds always includes a main ritual on Friday night.   

Typically, Sacred Space does not choose a focus for the event; however, there have been many years in which certain themes or tracks have arisen based on what people apply to teach. When this happens, we allow these tracks to arise organically—which enables us to be responsive to subtle trends that we may not have foreseen.  For example, we had a couple of years in which we offered tracks on death and dying based on what people were proposing and a group of death doulas began working together as a result of this work.  A track on Appalachian magic emerged one year.  There have been a couple of years where you could see from the proposals that the ancestors were really reaching out and we organized some programs into a track.  None of these tracks were pre-planned. 

In regards to 2020, I am copying the text by Ivo Dominguez Jr. of Between the Worlds about the astrology that will inform the main ritual in the joint conference.  

Astrology for BTW 2020 by Ivo Dominguez Jr. http://www.sacredwheel.org/Conference2020/astrology-for-btw.html  

Throughout 2020 there are numerous significant astrological markers. This BTW conference is intended to prepare us for the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21, 2020 that is also the solstice. The dates for the conference will be April 9-12, 2020 which is the start of a Jupiter and Pluto conjunction cycle. There will also be a new cycle of Saturn and Pluto conjunctions.  A listing of the major astrological events for 2020 with additional information will be available here shortly.

Just shy of every 20 years there is a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn that is significant, but usually not a world changing event. These conjunctions cycle through the Four Elements over the course of about 800 years. In 2020 we move from having Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions in Earth Signs to conjunctions in Air Signs. Each Element cycle takes about 200 years to complete. What this also means is that we are nearing the end of a cultural cycle that started in the 1840s and ends in 2020. The level of change and upheaval will be astonishing even what has already been a decade of the unprecedented. The desire for change, whether looking forward or backward will be intense at every scale from the individual to the global. No doubt much of the change will be destructive, but there is also great potential for good.” 


Diana Paxson
 is a prolific author of fiction and of seminal magickal, Pagan, and Heathen works. She is an elder in the Troth and founder of the Hrafnar kindred, which was born out of her work in recovering the ancient oracular practices of the Seidhr. Diana’s work on Runes, Asatru, trance, and oracular work have all broken new and important ground and are conveyed through her books, Taking up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic (Weiser Books), Essential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism (Citadel), Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (Weiser), and The Way of the Oracle: Recovering the Practices of the Past to Find Answers for Today (Weiser), Essential Guide to Possession, Depossession, and Divine Relationships (Weiser),  and Odin: Ecstasy, Runes and Norse Magic (Weiser). http://www.diana-paxson.com

TWPT:  How do you determine the guest speakers, the classes, the smaller events that are part of the Sacred Space experience? 

GR:  We usually choose three featured teachers to invite and then do an open call (this year is an exception).  For the featured teachers we are looking at several factors and balancing them. We are looking for people who we are confident can teach something appropriate and interesting to an advanced audience made up of people from a wide variety of traditions.   

For the other speakers, as I said, we usually use a peer review process.  We always include our criteria on our proposal page.  We are only looking for programs intended for a more advanced audience and, frankly, the more advanced the better.  The programming needs to be original.  Everything has to be open to all paying attendees.  We are looking for balance in the program.  I try to book a ritual in each program time-slot.  We want to be sure that we are not offering four things on Brigid (for example).  We do not accept more than two programs for anyone who is not a featured teacher (who do four each).  We do notice if there are emerging themes that suggest either a divinely inspired need to have a topic covered or an underlying need being expressed by the community.  The entire board discusses each proposal and votes on the program.   

This year, we divided up the program slots with Between the Worlds and then went back through our conference evaluations and invited speakers who have received especially high praise to create a “best-of” roster.  In 2021, we will return to an open call.  

TWPT:  How has Sacred Space progressed over the years?  

GR:  I can only speak to the last ten years.  We have grown considerably.  My first year, we had 99 people.  We now reliably have around 250 and are expecting more than that for the joint conference.   

The biggest change is that soon after I joined, we made the decision to accept only advanced programming and eliminated anything that was not intended for that audience.  We also instituted the rigorous review process.  This dramatically changed the conference.  We began getting more proposals for classes and better proposals.  We only accept about 50% of the proposals most years.  We began drawing more people who knew that they would be in a context in which everyone was a very serious practitioner.  I recall hearing one of our attendees telling a friend that she should attend and saying that Sacred Space is “graduate school” for people like us.  The people who attend are very seriously engaged in “The Work.”  That has continued to deepen and, the more focused we are on addressing the needs of an advanced audience, the more we grow.  

TWPT:  As a learning experience, how much of an impact do you think the event has had on the Pagan Community? 

GR:  I definitely see material being carried back into the community and the conference itself is a place where leaders influence each other.  As I mentioned, we have communities of practice that have come out of Sacred Space—the death doulas being one.  I can speak for myself and say that it was through connections made at Sacred Space that a group of us who do possessory oracular rituals with different beings and from different traditions compare notes and keep in touch with each other.  We have groups that have made connections through Sacred Space that work on sharing magical tech together.   

We come together each year, like Witchy Brigadoon, and conversations are carried on year after year.  I know that I now am consulted regularly on the topics about which I have expertise…and the reason people know which areas to consult me come from Sacred Space.  I know this is true for many other people and I know that I make referrals all the time to people who have specialized expertise who I know because of Sacred Space.  I also just know from experience how many people contact me or other board members telling us how important Sacred Space is to them.  We have a strong community and it is made up of very serious practitioners. 

TWPT:  Do you find the learning experience of the event is also a learning process for the presenters?  

GR:  I don’t know that I can answer this in a way that is useful.  I believe that teachers always learn from teaching but your question seems to be more about a particular experience or two. Some teachers are more interactive, some are not.  That varies.  Sometimes audience discussion is useful, sometimes it can derail a session and that largely has to do with how well the teacher manages as well as audience preference.  I will say that usually we take a couple of newer teachers and observe them.  We pay attention to the feedback.  There is also personal preference and learning styles. 

TWPT:  What do you hope is the takeaway for those who attend Sacred Space?

GR:  My hope is that the community will be committed to continuous development and to recognizing and sharing their expertise with each other.  I hope that people will be inspired by each other and focus on their work as magicians, occultists, witches, Pagans, priests/esses, visionaries, etc.  I hope that their networks will be enriched because I think that is our strength.  I also hope that each person comes out of Sacred Space each year with something that unfolds for them that they need.  I am a big believer in allowing oneself to be intuition-led in circumstances like Sacred Space and allow oneself to have the experiences you are called to have.  That is really individual.  We do some magick to facilitate that possibility, but that is a very personal thing.   

TWPT:  I notice that next years Sacred Space event is being held in conjunction with the Between the Worlds event. How did that fall into place?

GR:  This is the second time we will be offering the joint event.  Prior to the 2015 event, Ivo Dominguez Jr. approached me (as the President) to explore offering a joint conference.  The reason for doing so is that we draw from similar audiences.  We are both in the same region and offer programming to intermediate to advanced practitioners.  Between the Worlds is offered irregularly according to the astrology, whereas Sacred Space is annual.  One of the concerns that Ivo and I share is that we want our communities to be collaborative and build each other up rather than causing conflict.  We did not want to compete for the same audience, causing challenges for people who might not be able to attend both events but who would want to do so.  We decided, instead, to combine forces.  Between the Worlds is a fundraiser for the New Alexandrian Library.  Sacred Space just needs to make enough money to cover our expenses for the next conference.  So, by combining forces, we thought that we could work out a cost share that would allow us to meet the needs of both groups and offer a really great experience.  It worked well last time, so when the astrology aligned for 2020 and BTW was going to offer the conference again, they approached Sacred Space and asked if we wanted to do the same thing we did in 2015.  We do.

TWPT:  Who will be the presenters at Sacred Space next year?

GR:  Our featured teachers are Robin Fennelley, Jason Miller, and Diana Paxson.  

The roster that includes all the Sacred Space teachers and the BTW teachers is here: http://www.sacredspacefoundation.org/presenters-2020/  

TWPT:  What do you see Sacred Space being in the future?  What hopes do you have for the event and how do you want to see the event progress in the next few years?

GR:  We are permanently moving the conference to April.  With climate change, we were finding that we were facing weather challenges too often in March.  

I am hoping that we will be able to get even more advanced programming.  I think we will continue to grow without losing our focus.  

I believe we will have more communities of practice develop.  Wearing my sociologist hat, I think that the development of communities of practice is a good model for us to build “infrastructure.”  The board is trying to think of ways we can support the development of such communities of practice.