The beginning of a circle is also its end. Not I, but the world says it: all is one. And yet everything comes in
The Australian Wiccan Conference is a gathering of pagans from many traditions who come together to share knowledge and to join in celebration of Ostara, and the Spring Equinox. (September 19 to 21). This year's conference was organized by the members of the The Pagan Awareness Network Inc Qld, and supported by Pagan Alliance Qld. This annual event is held in a different location every year and had lecturers, performers and draws from many of the pagan traditions people who travel to share in the bonds of kinship and the unity of the experience. I had never attended such an event and was looking forward to it for months. As a Solitary Witch it was going to be a chance to learn and see how others practice their craft.
I was not prepared though for it to be so much more.
Fog wrapped the mountain like a cloak, as the car wound its way towards the AWC high in the peaks. Night was falling and the fog added an air of magick to the journey as we climbed higher, heading towards Koonjewarree. We had left Coolangatta for the ride into the mountains and now as we drew closer, our excitement was growing even more. My companions had also never attended a group circle and the AWC was going to be their first too.
It was after dark when we pulled up at the conference site and we could hear coming from the fog, the sounds of laughter and merriment as people had gathered in the dining room. The atmosphere inside the dining room was alive as we entered. Happy faces and cheerful voices enveloped us. It was an interesting experience to see so many with a common belief coming together and getting to know each other. Old friends renewing friendships. New friendships being born out of the bond of being Pagans, Wiccans and Witches.
For a solitary from a country town, it was exciting to be there and to see so many joining happily together.
The fog stayed with us as we dined on the first of the wonderful meals prepared for us and looked out into the night. The night seemed a foretelling of what was to come. The fog, a magickal cloak closing all of the world away from the gathering. Finally we slipped, tired into the night and into our beds. Friday was over and tomorrow would see the conference start in earnest.
Rising early like many, I greeted the new day with awe. The conference site had amazing vistas as mountains rose in a ring around us. A tranquil scene greeted us as we left our rooms on a bright and sunny Saturday. Eventually we all found our way to the dining room for breakfast and were greeted again by the organizers of PAN Queensland.
If I have one regret it was that I could not attend every workshop offered at the AWC. Those I attended were wonderful experiences. They started with Guided Meditation conducted by Stacey Demarco. Stacey instructed us through a meditation that led us to run with the animals and to meet with the Gods. It was a moment of reflection and also of preparation for the experiences to come.
A quick morning tea and a chance again to talk to those around us. Another opportunity to hear about their beliefs and lives and to see that there are others who have similar experiences to our own.
Energy Healing with Brooke Hynch again directed us back to more visualization techniques as we worked individually to draw into us the energy of the Universe and then to release it back into the world. With a focus on the Chakra points Brooke helped us focus on the energy we call Magick and manipulate it so that it flowed through us and beyond. As a group we were led out into the grounds and there we again visualized and manipulated energy before releasing it, focusing on sending out healing energies.
Lunch was again back in the dining room and more sharing of our experiences of the morning. It was interesting to see how even seasoned visitors to the conference were gaining as much from the classes as we were.
After lunch, I chose to take a little time away from the workshops to spend exploring the grounds and I was not alone. Many had used the moment to reflect on their morning or to think about the coming evening. The grounds seemed to lend themselves perfectly to the conference with water flowing beside the field where the ritual circle was being prepared.
Dario Western took a few of us through some exercises in Self Esteem as we were given a few ideas on how to reinforce for ourselves and others with a positive attitude. "You are beautiful and wonderful just the way you are", echoed as we repeated it to each other followed by a thank you for the compliment.
It was amazing how quickly the evening seemed to come and we gathered on the field that later would be the site of the Circle for Ostara. Run by the Earthwyrm Coven, the circle was explained and as it was, we watched the sky darken as a storm drew around us. It was interesting to see how a coven actually works a ritual as it was explained to us what to expect.
We disbanded to dress and prepare before returning to the field.
As we waited for the rite to begin, I could feel the energy rising and seemingly, so could the Gods, as lightning laced the sky horizontally and seemed to circle around us. Some in ritual robe, some in elaborate dress. Others in simple casual, comfortable clothing. All of us there for one purpose, to rejoice and give praise. Men and women joining together as one to give thanks for the Spring.
The Earthwyrm Coven led us through the ritual. It was an amazing experience. Approximately 120 individuals joining hands in worship and peace as we welcomed the Goddess and God into our midst. About us the night lit up in a display of power. Lightning flashed through the night horizontally as the Spring Maiden and her consort shared with us the flowers of spring and joined with us in song and dance as the High Priestess of Earthwyrm Coven took the lead in a Spiral Dance of celebration. Each called for a blessing and then the Maiden and her consort handed out a gift of a talisman connecting us to this place and the energy of the Spring Equinox. The rite came to an end but not the night's festivities.
Following the ritual, a bonfire was lit. At its heart a Phoenix, the symbol of the AWC in 2008 and a fitting image for a night that celebrated rebirth and renewal. As the flames engulfed the Phoenix, we shared in its rebirth. Renewed, we again retired to the dining hall for a feast and drinks in celebration with the Gods. People happily dining in their colourful robes and feeling the natural high Pagans have felt though out time after communing with their Gods.
The night did not stop as we were entertained first by the enchanting voice of Julie Walton, who's songs were accompanied by a slide show of stunning visuals and the dancing of the members of the Earthwyrm Coven.
Then Adelaide band Spiral Dance took the stage and soon the dance floor was filled as Spiral Dance sang songs from their album The Quickening. Celebrations went on into the night as the band played and the pagans danced. Spiral Dance is a regular participant of the AWC and has carried ashes from the 2008 conference to add to the fire for the 2009 AWC.
It was in the small hours of the morning when the last retired.
Sunday saw people rising slowly to a light breakfast and the last of the workshops. Many, including myself, took advantage of the markets to buy hand made robes, jewelery, pottery, and metal work.
My last class was a Tarot Workshop hosted by She D'Montford & Katrina Rose. As teachers of Tarot, they guided us through the story of the history of the Tarot and the Fools Journey. We looked at the cards and at the difference between earlier decks and those that followed the Rider Waite deck. It was interesting to hear of the differences and why they were changed and how the earlier version came to be.
Merry Meet and Merry Part. Like all good things, the Australian Wiccan Conference for 2008 came to an end. And, with tears, sadness and promises to meet again, we began to say our good byes. The drive down the mountain was subdued as my friends and I began to feel the changes the conference had brought into our lives. I know I have come away from that mountain a changed man.
I would like to thank Lisa Kenny, Belinda David, Linda Ward, Sarah Pingel, Christopher Pingel and Helen Gilmour for organizing such a wonderful gathering for the 2008 Australian Wiccan Conference, the presenters for sharing with us their knowledge and insights, Earthwyrm Coven for conducting the ritual, Julie Walton and Spiral Dance and all those who shared the conference for making the experience something I will remember always.
Photos 1 & 5-10 by Craig Stevenson, photos 2-4 by Janine Donnellan