Thursday, November 24, 2011

Trad Folk Magic Fest 2011 – After Thoughts

After spending 3 days immersed in conjure culture and meeting many new friends and colleagues, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the attendees and talk about our experiences. The likes, dislikes, and things we’d like to see in the future as this Festival appears to be really taking root and growing like a weed! Basically you’re in for an opinion piece peppered with wild fantasies…so buckle up. At the end I’ll tell about my creepy experience in the Séance Room of Muriel’s with some of the others.

LIKE: We all liked when we were provided with live demonstrations and hands-on practice opportunities. Books and the internet are fantastic, but learning face-to-face from other practitioners is where the gold is, and this kind of Festival provides an opportunity to do just that. Obviously with the number of people present and space at a premium (both lecture rooms were barely large enough to contain everyone), these kinds of classes require extra logistics – such as supplies, extra tables, etc – that makes them more challenging to hold. But that doesn’t change that we’d love to see more of that.

LIKE: We loved having the opportunity to get out into the city with some of the presenters for special events, such as the magical shopping trip (which I sadly did not attend) and the Voodoo séance. We also loved how visceral some of the lectures became as spirit started to move through the presenters and the room. But it seemed that presenters often held back, perhaps because they felt the context was not completely appropriate or that some in the eclectic audience would feel uncomfortable.

WISH: We wished that there had been more opportunity for immediate experiential application of the material we’d covered in the lectures. Especially with something like the Boneyard Work lecture with Orion. It would have been AMAZING to have been able to leave from the lecture, and go into a cemetery to care for some graves. Now, obviously in New Orleans most cemeteries close mid-afternoon, so that would make it necessary to have the lecture in the morning, etc. But having that experience while the spirit and energy of the workshop was so fresh would have been invaluable.

WISH: It would have been extremely wonderful to have been able to more fully experience the local spiritual culture of New Orleans. I’m sure it was a logistics thing again, but with several well respected Voodoo houses in the immediate area, it would have been amazing to have had the opportunity to experience a full-scale Fete, with the entire compliment of drums, and traditional litanies and songs, and authentic dances. Many attendees have never had the blessing of attending a Fete before, and it’s an amazing experience that would be of particular interest to those practicing the folk arts of the African diaspora.

Even if it’s not specifically Voodoo, especially as they are looking at holding future Fests in other locations, but a full-scale ritual (as much as one can pull one off in that kind of larger Fest atmosphere) would have been thoroughly appreciated. I know many of us were left really wishing that Orion had let fly during the Bible Conjure workshop, as he admitted he’d held back. I understand that in the middle of a workshop might not be the best place to let the Spirit take over, but for those who may wish a closer spiritual experience the option of attending a full ritual or even charismatic praise service would have been most welcome, instructive, and valued.

WISH: If a particular presenter is known for being able to go on and on and still be providing fantastic information, find some way to allow them longer slots of time! Mamma Starr and Orion both could have been given much more substantial blocks of time, and everyone there would have just eaten it up. Their storyteller styles lent to a more free-form and spirit-led method of getting across information, and it would have been nice not to have been rushed out of some of their workshops. Auntie Sindy and Miss Susan seemed much more attuned to the more traditional presenter/teacher formats, and so they were more able to succinctly get across the amount of material they planned for, without their being the sense of being rushed or getting cut off. It would be great to see presenter styles taken more into consideration when planning out lecture schedules in the future.

WISH: Since the Fests are going to be occurring regularly, and many new attendees will want to partake in some workshops that have been given before, and the presenters are worried about repeating information for those who are returning attendees, perhaps offer some 101 and 201s. For instance Mamma Starr didn't talk too much about Black Hawk, because she assumed that most had been there before and wouldn't want to hear similar information, and also she wanted to build on the information she'd given before. All understandable. But those of us who hadn't attended last year were a wee sad to not hear the Black Hawk info. If she had a Black Hawk workshop for new attendees, and then a White Eagle & Mother Ross workshop for those who wanted to deepen their knowledge, that would have been ideal! Having some more "advanced" class options for repeat attendees would be really amazing.

WISH: This one really is just pure fantasy, but I wish there had been a way that I could have attended ALL the workshops! In attending Mamma Starr’s Black Hawk, White Eagle, and Mother Ross lecture, I had to miss Orion and Auntie Sindy’s workshop on cleansing and uncrossing work. Trying to decide between those two power-houses was like some kind of Sophie’s Conjure Choice. I also missed out on Miss Susan’s workshop on Astrology for Conjure, and Auntie Sindy’s workshops on love and home protection/prosperity work.


LIKE: The workshops were, for the most part, all filmed this year. So if we missed something, or we just want the relive something, we’ll be able to order the tapes!! And also, the intent is to make those tapes available to the public too, so even those who cannot make the Fests will be able to get a good portion of the material in the future.

DISLIKE: Overall, there was precious little to complain about!

However, there were several instances where an attendee sort of “dominated” a workshop, and really took overly large chunks of time away from the lecture. Now anyone who has taught or spoken in public knows that there is often that one (sometimes more if you’re unlucky) person who continually asks off-topic questions, or asks incessant questions that stall the presenter completely, or otherwise repeatedly interject with their own stories and opinions, and this easily takes over and takes away from the facilitator and indeed the other participants. I’ve been there and had to face the challenge of wrangling such a person. In fact, at the beginning of the Fest we were all asked to basically just listen to the material, and save questions and comments for the end when a presenter would invite such. I realize this was an attempt to pre-empt “over-enthusiasm”. But it fell on some deaf ears. Several workshops were taken over in this manner, and it was frustrating to those of us who really wanted to milk every second of knowledge from the sessions. It would be nice to have presenters be a bit less polite and accommodating when it’s apparent that someone is over-stepping such boundaries.

So that’s my Hindsight Analysis!

Now, the final night of the Fest, after all the workshops were through, everyone dashed off in different directions to party in whatever way the fancy struck them. I ended up going with Andrea and her hubby (SOO sorry I can’t remember his name), and Randy Love into the French Quarter. We had reservations for cocktails in the Séance Lounge at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. I ADORE Muriel’s and especially the mind-numbingly atmospheric Séance Lounge, which is actually where I had my wedding reception. (Seriously – click on the link and look at the pictures; you won’t regret it.) I was excited to be going back.

When we got to the Quarter, we were a little early for our reservations, so we stopped for a drink at the hilariously elaborate Pirates’ Alley Café for some absinthe and general pirate-goodness. Yes, the bar staff all dress the part! I don’t like the flavor of anise, fennel and other black licoricey things, which is sad because the whole ritual of absinthe is gorgeous and I would love to partake. Too curious to not at least give it a go just in case, I had a sip of Randy’s and it was much smoother than I imagined, but still icky for my palate. *Pout*

Onwards to Muriel’s, we found that our reservations had been quite superfluous, as the Séance Lounge was completely empty except for us. This was both cool – as we had the place to ourselves – and not-so-cool as Muriel’s apparently plays a 3 minute loop of spooky dissonant music in there when it’s not populated, just to add some ambience for when people stick their heads in just to look. This 3 minute loop becomes its own form of Water Torture when one sits in that room for any length of time, let me tell you!

Oh, and did I mention that Muriel’s is haunted? Yea. It is. For real.

Now, not being a natural medium I am blessedly not inundated with spirits all the time. I usually have to work at perceiving them – sitting down to meditation, asking them to come, being very still and very quiet so I can pick up the subtlety when they arrive. Generally speaking, unless it’s VERY good or VERY bad, I don’t immediately pick up on presences. Also, when it comes to spirit beings I’m usually very even-keeled and cool-headed. Non-carnate entities (being that have never had a physical body, or had one so long ago that it’s almost a moot point now), and human-spirits-in-visitation don’t phase me. But my skin will crawl and my hackles raise like crazy if a true disembodied spirit is around. I don’t like it. My anxiety shoots through the roof, and despite all my knowledge that everything’s going to be ok, I still get really creeped out. I feel guilty about that, especially since my mother is quite gifted in ghost rescue, but it’s the truth.

This all makes me feel all the worse since Death doesn’t frighten me, and Spirits of Death – such as Santa Muerte, Kali, Baron Samedi and the Ghede, Archangel Azrael – just love me and we get along like gangbusters. I also don’t have a problem with graveyard work, though I admittedly don’t do too much of it. But I’ve always LOVED cemeteries and find them extremely peaceful and beautiful places. So the fact that disembodied spirits of dead people freak me the hell out seems really illogical. I think, in listening to Orion’s breakdown of the various parts and natures of the spirit, that it makes sense. Lingering disembodied spirits are “off” – that’s not a state that is in balance. So that sets my spiritual alarm bells ringing, and gives me a good case of the creeping horrors. Spirit-impressions and Spirit-visitiations, both of which I have no problems with, are balanced and appropriate manifestations of spirit and so don’t jangle me. (These are all just my own personal musings and opinions. I realize plenty of other people would heartily disagree with my interpretations, and that’s totally fine. I hold multiple truths, this is just how I experience things and explain them to myself.)

Back to the story, we’re sitting around talking and having a great time in the Séance Lounge (despite the 3 minute loop of doom), and I keep seeing something out the corner of my eye in the next room by this mirror. I also am feeling really tense. But I tell myself it’s just the music wearing on my nerves. Next thing I know both Andrea and Randy are saying, “do you see that in the corner by the mirror?” My stomach drops, because I’d really been telling myself that I’d just been seeing a wisp of my own hair out of my peripheral vision, and the anxiety was the music. Now I can’t lie to myself anymore. Dammit.

We nicely greet the spirit, and Andrea invites it to sit with us if it wants. I am wanting SO badly to not feel scared, and ever the indoctrinated Canadian just do my best to project apologies for my fear, and communicate goodwill.

The spirit starts knocking in various places in the room. Fine. All well and good. It seems to mostly like to hang out in the corner by that mirror across the room, and that’s also fine with me. Of course, then it starts jumping around in all these wooden carved faces that are on the walls – from one face to another to another. I try to tell myself I’m just making this all up in my head. Sure, the spirit is knocking and hanging out by the mirror, but jumping faces? Nah. That’s when Andrea and Randy both mention that it’s jumping around in the faces. Dammit.

I’m getting really tense. I’m trying to stay all calm and nonchalant. Apparently it’s not working, because everyone starts laughing at me and my obvious discomfort. Andrea decides we should all move and sit over near the mirror where the spirit is. I like to push my boundaries, so I agree. I guess the spirit has a wicked sense of humor, because no sooner do we get over to that area then it starts knocking directly underneath me and also directly behind my head. Gee, thanks. Dammit.

I decide I really can’t take much more. I’m all tense and anxious, and I’m starting to feel kinda dizzy. Ghosts just don’t agree with me. So I ask St. Michael to please put a shield around me so I can no longer be effected by the spirit, but ask that the spirit still be allowed in the general area since everyone else seems to be enjoying it. Immediately, I felt pounds and pounds lighter, the anxiety diminished, and I was able to just enjoy the company of my friends. The spirit still dashed around the room, and we all saw it, and it knocked a few more times.

I will say that although I did not get a sense of overt malevolence from the spirit, it definitely had some anger. I guess you’d kind of have to have a little something unpleasant going on – whether its sadness or anger or pain - or else you wouldn’t be a ghost! When the conversation would turn to something a bit more frustrating or negative, its strength would increase exponentially, and when things would lighten up with laughter and mirth the activity would drop down to nearly nothing. To me that says a little something about the resonance of that particular being. So I don’t feel too badly about putting up my shields! I just DON’T do well with ghosts.

One more freaky thing happened that night. As we stepped outside Muriel’s, a man walked by who was noticeably drunk, but who had something else riding along with him, if you get me. He locked eyes with us on the doorstep of Muriel’s and said “Oh you’re talking to spirits, eh? Hehehehe.” And just walked off as quickly as he’d appeared. The hehehehe part was said really deadpan and weird. It was creepy. I just told St. Michael not to let anything follow me back to the hotel, and when I got back there I put the prayer cloth we’d gotten from Mamma Starr and Orion’s workshop on top of my head to sleep!

The next morning I ended up having a lovely chat with Heatherleigh, Jacki, Papa Newt, and Orion before we headed off to one last breakfast before everyone parted ways. It was a perfect end to a perfectly magical weekend!

My husband was going to be flying in and meeting me that afternoon, and we stayed in NOLA for another 6 days. I was going to be trying to find my family crypt in Lafayette Cemetery, collecting dirt and waters from various sacred locations, visiting churches and Voodoo temples, and eating LOTS of delicious food. And, yes, I’ll tell y’all about that too. With pictures!

Till next time….


  1. I've loved reading about your trip to NOLA. How can we find out about these conferences?

  2. Sounds fabulous!! Jealous much! Well, maybe next year...

  3. Thank you for sharing this journal of events and your thoughts, Devi. Sounds like a wonderful festival.

    I hope you can make it out to the workshops and apprenticeships in May, too. I'd be lovely to get to meet.

  4. @Ximera - You can bookmark to keep track of the latest plans. Also, if you're on Facebook, go Like "Conjure Crossroads" and "Folk Magic Festival", as you'll get direct updates there!

    @Balthazar - it would be a DREAM if you came over here. :D

    @ConjureMan Ali - I imagine you would be lovely to get to meet. ;) It's going to take me quite a while to pay off this trip - but if my prosperity grows in such a way that I'm able to, I would love to attend the Lucky Mojo workshops eventually!

  5. That was totally meant to be, "It would be lovely.." but my subconscious arrogance got in the way with a freudian slip ;-)

  6. LOL - I knew immediately what you had meant, but the typo was had me laughing, so I just had to tease you. :)

  7. Hello Devi darlin! Thanks so very much for this wonderful critique and review of your days at the festival. You are so very kind and thoughtful. We have learned so much this year and I think next year will be even more exciting and worth the trip. I remember being so thrilled to hug you when we first met and I hope "The Knight" is at home and working for you.

    I will also tell you that throwing bones, if you are so called to do so is just amazing. I have not stopped since I left NOLA and the connection is like nothing I've ever experienced.

    Heaps of love and blessings to you. xxx Auntie Sindy

  8. Auntie Sindy! It was fantastic getting to meet you and give you a hug too! And "The Knight" is just gorgeous and has definitely brought a very new and impressive energy to my St. Michael altar. I was kicking myself for forgetting to grab the purple pillow for it to rest on - so at some point I'll just have to make one myself, I guess.

    I got sick shortly after getting home and am still recovering (a lingering cough is plaguing me) so I haven't gotten to work with my bones much yet. But I am greatly looking forward to it!

    I hope to see you again soon!