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Welcome Witches and Co.
This is my first blog post on this new online Space that I am patiently creating. It was an idea I had been incubating for some time now but finally felt courageous enough to release into the wild and wonderful Internets recently. It’s been a journey just completing (most of) the steps to get to this place, this page, and even now, if I’m being honest, my fingertips are quivering.
Nerves aside, I thought what better time to launch the inaugural post of my online Space than alongside the inaugural conference of A Witch Con (2021)? The timing is also auspicious as today is the waxing moon, a time for new beginnings, initiations, innovation, and taking First Steps as I conceptualize it. Magical, indeed.
As with all my magical workings, I find it best to begin with setting intention. The intention of this post is to offer a brief background of the origin of A Witch Con (2021) and then spend the majority of the space discussing my experience attending the sessions. I hope to extrapolate on the lessons I learned at this amazing conference, of which there were many. I likely won’t write about all my takeaways, but hopefully these curated ones resonate with fellow practitioners who attended and intrigue those who did not for next year!
A brief introduction on how I came across A Witch Con (2021)
Photo retrieved from https://www.awitchcon.com/. All credit goes to A Witch Con (2021). *According to their subreddit, SASS stands for Skeptic, Agnostic / Atheist, and generally Science-Seeking.
The actual convention began to be formulated in February of this year. The first percolations occurred in a closed Facebook group for like-minded individuals who value critical-thinking and hold interests in a variety of witchcraft practices but who may not all go by the same name. By the time I heard of it, months of hard work had already been put by the five main organizers (Annica, Maya, Clay, Julie, and Alex) and a number of “behind-the-scenes” but integral facilitators who helped pull everything together. And, wow, did the fruits of their labor manifest.
Before the Weekend
The first landing pad for Con attendees and speakers was the Discord Server. Now, I would be majorly remiss if I did not admit this: I am secretly a fangirl of so many of the speakers that presented at A Witch Con.
It would be a bold-faced lie to say that I didn’t get the tinglies as I saw recognizable names trickle in and introduce themselves in the welcome-center on Discord. We were surrounded by local celebrities, but we even had an actual celebrity make an appearance in the chats from a certain TV show that shall not be named but features a certain musically-gifted Devil
turned God as the main character (spoilers?) Anyhoo! Being amongst some of my favorite witchy podcasters, online bloggers and youtubers was a major trip, especially from my witchling vantage point. I had grown accustomed over the past six months to hearing the unique voices and stories of these people, to absorbing and chewing on their thoughts and messages, so much so that they felt like friends. And then I got to meet them.
I was fortunate enough to have already developed connections with a couple of my favorite speakers on other servers such as SednaWoo and Durmak of Habdur from the Placebo Magick Podcast. Membership in their communities since early this year has played a major role in the development of this online Space, actually. I was already super excited to hear them speak on topics like placebo and atheist magick.
However, upon discovering further speakers would include Bree NicGarran from Hex Positive (whose podcast makes my morning routine simply delightful), Jon Cleland Host from Naturalistic Paganism (whose essays I had actually begun reading in 2016, at the very start of my witchcraft journey), Sarah Best from The Skeptical Witch (who somehow manages to be a PhD student and a prolific youtuber??), and Alex Wrekk from UpTheWitchyPunx, whose zines Brainscan #33 and #34 I had most recently purchased, fallen in love with, and used as talking points to introduce my partner to the concept of witchcraft–well I pretty much lost it.
In the most dignified, non-embarrassing manner, of course. Pillow-screaming was kept to a minimum.
The next leg of the journey for Con attendees was participating in the Witch’s Ball and the Witch’s Brew the Friday before. When I tuned into the zoom, it was with a wary excitement. What to expect? Who all would be there? Would I see familiar faces? Would I meet Witches of all backgrounds and ethnicities or would it be, like so many other spaces I inhabit in this world, primarily White and Eurocentric? I remember mixing some Matcha tea in my favorite mug before the Witch’s Brew and infusing it with good omens prior to logging on.
One thing that struck me right away was the amount of creativity and cleverness that went into the questions provided to attendees and speakers in their small breakout rooms. Questions such as: What is a local folk tale you know? What is a daily ritual you practice? What is your witchcraft specialty? What does your altar look like? and of course, Con favorite What is your favorite potato dish? (An entire blog post could be made by someone other than me about the sheer amount of potato puns and jokes at this convention.) The questions were meaningful because they allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level which in turn began engendering a much-needed sense of community. And this sense, I would come to find, would be a key part of the magic being worked at A Witch Con 2021.
As starstruck as I was to be e-mingling with my more famous witchy peers, I think I first began to find grounding and a spark of belonging in the Big Room dialogue the night of the Witch’s Ball. Someone began to talk about ancestral veneration within the Craft and I felt compelled to bring up the fact that as a US-born-and-raised Witch of Color (and a child of Jamaican immigrants), I often struggle to connect with my ancestors and their authentic spiritual practices.
These practices have been brutally and systematically suppressed and erased by White Colonialist beliefs and culture–so much so that I would not even know where to begin looking (I also don’t feel comfortable doing genealogy testing, but that’s a post for another day). When I raised my hand and spoke my truth, I was in awe at the number of community members who echoed a similar sentiment. These Witches shared openly and vulnerably about the inner conflict associated with finding liberation and comfort in cultures that may be inherently oppressive (also a post for another day). These Witches encouraged me to trust my own inner wisdom as my primary guide. It was a moment of beauty, a beginning, and I felt even more inspired and hopeful for what the actual Con would offer me.
During the Weekend
Due to other obligations this weekend regarding a Narrative Therapy workshop I signed up for (#psychlike post forthcoming), I wasn’t able to see every speaker panel, but I did manage to attend the majority of them.
The first panel featured a handful of individuals who I would describe as on the forefront of content-making for SASS, secular and naturalistic witchcraft. Alex Wrekk, a DIY punk Witch who owns one of the coolest stores I’ve ever heard of, spoke briefly on creating a practice that is unique to you and that centers your own personal interests. “When you choose to be a witch, you choose to see the world differently,” she said, which got me thinking about World Views in Narrative Therapy (another time, I promise).
Bree NicGarran, a powerhouse of a Witch if I ever saw one, spoke on secular practice and not needing to see a connection between the divine and her Craft. She emphasized that we can be the powerhouse for our magic, which I found to be extremely, er, empowering. (I would apologize for the pun, but after this weekend, I think she would rather appreciate it actually.) Bree’s separation of deity-work from witchcraft got me thinking about my own beliefs regarding deity and pagan practice, and how I would like to incorporate them into my life.
Lee Curtis-Rogers of Do The Magical Thing introduced me to new vocabulary when comparing nontheist vs atheist practice and materialism. Their talk suggested remaining open to critical thought and to what-ifs–an approach that may be difficult for many SASS-minded witches, but which intrigued me. I think this is because it speaks to that stripe of innocence on my heart that still yearns for supernatural magic to be real, despite my firm belief in naturalism. Lee’s idea of finding a way to live in the in-between gave me much food for thought.
The second panel was right up my wheelhouse and the topic that first sucked me back into the Craft this past February: Placebo Magick. I’ve definitely spent many a night in the bathroom during my bedtime routine, mimicking Durmak’s robust, wizardly voice as those familiar words play: Welcome…to the Placebo Magick Podcast…some may call me goofy in those moments, but it’s way too much fun to stop. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the wizard in question’s portion of the panel due to my prior engagement (I fully intend to catch up soon!) but I was rather edified by SednaWoo and Sarah Best’s presentations.
Sedna’s in depth explanation of the open-label placebo effect made me want to create a database of scholarly research articles on placebo, nocebo, and psychological impact. It feels like a good thing to have accessible when explaining some of the scientific basis for this work. Her tips for well-designed placebos benefiting from an elaborate story and specific, tangible action in order to effect psychological change got me thinking about how I design my own witchcraft rituals as well.
Sarah’s talk spoke directly again to that youthful fount within me that sometimes wonders what it would be like to just believe again whenever I sit down at my altar to work Craft. Her thoughts on skepticism and belief and her explanations of the differences between System 1 (intuitive) and System 2 (analytical) thinking allowed me to see how I might be reasonably carrying these two different levels of belief in one body.
I also really appreciated her emphasis on the spirit/body/world union when it comes to making skeptical magic effective. According to her practice, one reason placebo works is because the mind’s perception isn’t just in the brain, it’s also in the body. By cultivating this biopsychosocial connection, we find new ways to magically enhance our well-being. The sheer act of doing the ritual with an open, uncritical mind is so often the catalyst for the psychological change so many of us naturalistic witches seek.
Pearls and Discoveries for Future Journeying
I could write for a very long time on all the different moments and profound exchanges I had during the convention that left an impact on me (Hi, New Discord Friends!), but that would take, well, a very long time. I could also recount all the lessons and takeaways I got from each session but that is what the recordings are for. What I want to focus on instead are some (paraphrased) pearls: shining memories I either made sure to write down right away, or that were so exceptional they simply emblazoned themselves on my brain. I hope that by reading them you, too, are illuminated.
- “Just do the thing and let that lead you to mastery.” – Tristan, of BadSignAstrology
- “Guilt is a non-functional emotion. We don’t need it as motivation to be spiritual.” – SednaWoo
- “How do I be Black and be a Witch? With or without ethnicity?” – Marya
- “You can be a witch and be messy.” – Lozzie
- “The universe is more than simple materials. Naturalism encompasses the whole.” – Jon Cleland Host
- “We aimed to create a space where all have the opportunity to learn.” – Maya Carlyle, organizer
What I Look Forward To Next Time
With everything that the convention had to offer, it’s a wonder that they had few mishaps, if any. As a witchling who is slowly cultivating an online Space, more detailed talks from some of the content makers I admire about their own journey doing such a thing would have been delightful and informative. Other things I thought may be beneficial to see were more time in small rooms (just so much to say and discover!) and the opportunity to patronize panelists directly (for those who desire it).
Lastly, while talking avidly with Julie (one of the organizers) about talismans we unintentionally create and the symbolic, psychological power they hold for us, they remarked to our small room “Now, that would make a good talk.”
In that moment, Alex Wrekk’s comment rattled in the back of my mind. Just minutes before, they had spoken about not needing to be a Household Name in the community in order to share one’s experience, and that the fear of seeming inexperienced may have held some potential speakers from participating during this year’s convention.
They were right.
Next time, I hope to see myself amongst the panelists, sharing my experience with everyone as I journey through this ineffable thing we call magic.
During the final session of the convention, the Witch’s Brunch, one of the small group questions we were asked was “what was your favorite takeaway from this weekend?” At the time I could not find the words. This was not because I took nothing away (as evidenced by above, I took much and more), but because the words were somehow escaping me. A part of me knew, with that innocuous question, that my weekend experience with this lovely community was coming to an close. It was time to depart from this magical, liminal space we had so painstakingly and lovingly called into creation for the time being.
Since then the words have become clearer. At A Witch Con 2021, I found:
I simply cannot wait for next time.