Last weekend’s first ever Mystic South Conference, held in Atlanta, was an amazing event — three days of workshops, concerts, and general revelry. Conference organizer Star Bustamonte and her merry band of volunteers did a remarkable job of running the show, even through a water/air conditioning outage in the host hotel which lasted for about ten hours on the conference’s second full day.
The many workshops and presentations which took place provided such a feast of ideas, inspirations, and provocations that it would be impossible to recount them all, and I am still mentally processing a lot of them. But two of the workshops in particular, though disparate in their approaches, provided concepts which together raised interesting issues for my own particular practice as a polytheistic Heathen.
On Saturday afternoon, as we persevered through the water crisis, Theanos Thrax — aka Anomalous Thracian — presented a workshop titled, “Heart of Hospitality: Spirits and Place in Religions of Relation.” Although he presented many thought-provoking ideas during his talk one phrase in particular especially caught my attention: he defined religion as “a container for relationships.” That phrase indeed gets to the heart of what Heathenry is for me: relationship with the gods and goddesses whom I honor as well as the land spirits. the ancestors, and all the other beings who presence surrounds me. And the ethical side of Heathenry is about relationship as well: while striving to live a good, honorable life is certainly a worthy goal in and of itself, it is also my gift back to the gods for their gift to me of the essence of life.
Then, on Sunday morning, the inimitable Dorothy Morrison led a rollicking, boisterous, and fascinating exchange on the issue of ethics in magic and spellwork. The discussion was centered around the example of a money spell, and starred a hypothetical Uncle Fred who, as we found out by stages during the course of the discussion, was (a) unimaginably rich (b) the owner-manager of a soup kitchen and (c) quite possibly a serial killer who preyed on homeless people. (Netflix could probably base an entire series around Uncle Fred.) As we found out each new fact about the stubborn; or rather, kind; or rather, sinister Uncle Fred, the ethics of the money spell seemed to change.
So how did my crazy mind (though not as crazy as Uncle Fred’s) make a connection between these two presentations? The spellwork which Dorothy Morrison for the most part referred to was energy manipulation– simply working magically with the forces always around us which have no personality or morals of their own. The forces themselves don’t care how they’re used. But when I as a polytheist ask for something tangible — money, health, parking place, politicians who aren’t complete idiots — I tend to make the request to a certain god or goddess or group of gods/goddesses whom I honor. And that gets back to relationship: every time I make such a request it has an effect, though perhaps infinitesimal, on my relationship with that deity or deities. No, it isn’t about fear, or concern about making the gods angry; that’s not an issue at all. But it is about a relationship of mutual respect where each side doesn’t see the other as being there simply to perform tasks or run errands.
My pondering of this continues, and all of the above may simply be me thinking out loud. But thanks to the Mystic South Conference for, among its many other delights and benefits, giving me issues like this to contemplate, which will undoubtedly lead to the enrichment of my spiritual life.