I (somewhat) recently returned from the Mystic South Conference (July 19th-21st), and I had a blast! It was so much fun meeting other Pagans, attending workshops, and generally being in a spiritual space. I have attended my local Pagan Pride Day many times (which is also wonderful), but Mystic South was different. I got to interact with Pagans from so many different paths, from different places in the US (primarily the south, but there were also some California Pagans and people from other locations), all over the span of three jam-packed days in a beautiful hotel.
Here were my biggest takeaways from Mystic South 2019:
I have an awesome group of friends. There were eight of us that made the trip to Atlanta from NC, caravaning in three cars, writing each other Oregon Trail-style updates from the road in the form of Dearest Abigail letters. It was amazing.
We went to workshops together, scarfed snacks in between workshops together, had a picnic in the hotel garden together, roomed together, and we all survived the weekend! This was also my first “big trip with lots of people” since being diagnosed with OCD, and my friends were all fantastically supportive of the weird quirks and requirements that go along with that (for which I am eternally grateful).
It was like a spiritual family vacation, and it was the best!
I talk a lot about community on this blog because it is very important to me and to my spirituality. Attending Mystic South allowed me to connect to a much larger cross-section of the Pagan community, and I am so thankful to have that experience. I spoke with people from many different paths, all doing wonderful things in their local Pagan community, as well as more broadly.
I got to meet two of my favorite bloggers, John Beckett of Under the Ancient Oaks and Heron Michelle of Witch on Fire, both hosted on Patheos Pagan. It was really nice to interact with these people in person, not just from blog posts or pictures on the internet. I went to several workshops led by them, which were informative and an all-around cool experience.
One of the not-so-great realizations I had about community in Paganism is that, even though we are growing, we are still very small. The conference rooms weren’t huge, and while I appreciated the intimate atmosphere with the presenters, I wished there were more people there. I’m not sure exactly how many people were at Mystic South – it was enough to be exciting, but not enough to feel crowded. The people who did come certainly brought the Woo – there was no doubt that there was a Pagan conference going on – but we didn’t fill up the hotel.
Perhaps the most depressing realization occurred on the drive down to Atlanta. We had experienced some car trouble early in the journey (hence the Oregon Trail stories), and as a result, I was a bit more vigilant about our surroundings. As we moved through South Carolina and Georgia, I saw so many Jesus signs. There was SO. MUCH. JESUS. Which was great for them, everyone should be able to express their faith openly without fear or judgement. But I couldn’t help thinking that if the car broke down, me and the Pagan Pride T-shirt I was wearing would not have been well received.
In general, the American South is not a friendly place to be a Pagan. It’s called the Bible Belt for a reason, and it’s not known as being the most welcoming or accepting place. Still, it’s where I grew up and it’s where I call home. It’s also part of why I was really excited to participate in a conference specifically for southern Pagans.
I’m spoiled, in a way. I’m fortunate enough to live in one of the more liberal places in North Carolina. Sure, there are still huge churches and signs about how “Christ Saves,” but they are becoming fewer and further between. It’s nice to be able to go about my day without a billboard judging my immortal soul. I know some Pagans aren’t so lucky.
On a happier note, overshadowing the sad realization of religious prejudice, I had so much fun at Mystic South! I’m sure a lot of it was travelling with my closest friends, but the convention itself was also just… fun! There was a great air of excitement around the conference space, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Most of the workshop attendees were excited to be there and were furiously taking notes about interesting points in the presentations. The vendors had really cool witchy stuff (I definitely went home with a lighter wallet and a heavier bag!) and were personable and easy to talk to. There was an impromptu, totally-unannounced scavenger hunt. There were also just a bunch of little moments (like seeing the water options next to a workshop: iced water, lemon water, and… Florida water??) that made the whole experience simultaneously lighthearted and meaningful.
One of the headliner workshops was What’s So Great about The Great Rite?, which was hilarious as well as informative! Aphrodite encouraged me to attend (of course). The presentation started with Jason Mankey recounting a story of him and his partner sneaking away after a ritual to perform the Great Rite on a hill under the stars and, coincidentally, in front of all his covenmates (because hills go up and aren’t the best places to share private intimate moments)! I also went to a workshop on Your Sacred Death Rite, where I learned that you can have your cremated remains turned into a dildo. In the same workshop, the presenter was also talking about what type of music you might want played at your funeral, at which point I quietly started singing “I get knocked down, but I get up again!” (Tubthumping by Chumbawamba) and sent my friends into a fit of (mostly silent) laughter.
I also learned some cool things!
The workshop Stories from the Stars: From Myths to Modern reminded me why I took astronomy in college. I got to geek out for an hour with other spiritual science nerds, and it was awesome! Living in a somewhat urban location, I don’t get to admire the stars as often as I would like, but this workshop inspired me to seek out some dark skies in the near future.
The Ancient Egyptian Spirituality workshop by Holli Emore (Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary) was really neat, as that’s not something I’ve had much exposure to before. Did you know that the Northern part of the Nile is called the Lower Nile, and that the Southern part is called the Upper Nile? I didn’t! That’s because the river flows South to North, which is also why the river delta is in the upper part of Egypt. I felt compelled to attend this workshop because of a certain Egyptian lioness goddess making her presence known to me (very loudly) in the past couple of months, and I got some excellent resources that I am following up on.
Heron Michelle’s Lunar Witchcraft: Navigating the Tides Within workshop was super informative, and definitely gave me some things to think about as far as timing of magickal workings. I typically perform my magick on an “as-needed” basis, and work with more material correspondences rather than astrological ones. I also missed out on an Astrology workshop by Ivo Dominguez Jr, which I am told was wonderful.
I attended both of John Beckett’s workshops on Connecting To The Land Where You Are (an abbreviated version of his talk can be found here) and Self-Care for Priests and Other Pagan Leaders. It was interesting to hear him speak in person, since I regularly read his blog. It was also nice to hear some of what I’ve been working on reflected back to me, and to get tips on self-care from someone who has been clergy for longer than I have.
Jason Mankey is an absolutely fabulous presenter. His talks on What’s So Great About the Great Rite? and The Magick of Initiations, Elevations, and Dedications were both fucking fantastic (especially in the case of the Great Rite, though everyone did keep their clothes on)! They were entertaining, informative, and down-to-earth. I encourage you to check out his blog on Patheos Pagan, though witnessing his dynamism as a presenter has now spoiled me for all future blog posts.
Most of all, what I got from Mystic South was validation. I’m going down the path that’s right for me. I’m going deeper in ways that feel authentic and real. I’m in the right spiritual community. I’m serving my community in helpful ways, and learning how to evolve with my service. I’m knowledgeable about what I do, and I’m ready to teach others.
One of the great things about attending a big conference such as this one is the variety of practices and experiences. Others may be doing something similar to me but in a different way, and that’s awesome! There are things I can learn from them, even if what I learn is that what they are doing isn’t a good fit for me. Some people are doing something completely different in a similar manner to the way I work, and that’s awesome, too. There’s a good method to be found there, and something that unites our many different flavors of Paganism.
If you are able to attend Mystic South next year, I highly encourage it! Or, a convention that is more local to your part of the world. Meeting fellow Pagans is a wonderful experience, and you learn from both the things you have in common, as well as the things you don’t. Gatherings like this are so important as we grow as a movement and as a community.