Enchantments’ writer and staff member Ana Vice reports on New York University’s Occult Humanities Conference.
This year’s NYU Occult Humanities Conference (OHC) – presented by Pam Grossman and Jesse Bransford – offered a series of tantalizing lectures, panel discussions, and events on all things esoterica. Held biennially since 2013, the event provides a platform for artists, academics and specialists to present on a variety of spiritual and academic topics, while also celebrating those who've incorporated occultism in their work.
Over the course of two days in October, the conference quickly became a think tank for new ideas on the evolution of spirituality in modern times. "Art as magic” and “magic as art” was an underlining theme throughout the weekend, beginning with Brian Cotnoir’s presentation on Alchemy and the Arts. The importance of elevating marginalized groups was also a key motif, (see Nectar Knuckles and Dianca London below), as well as technology's global impact on spiritual exchange.
One major takeaway? We are most definitely in the midst of another occult revival.
Here are some highlights from OHC’s 2019 conference:
Moon Marked and Touched by the Sun: Black Women Writers and the Reclamation of the Witch
Dianca London (writer, editor, and Kimbilio Fiction Fellow) took a closer look at the role of the witch, seer, and conjurer in black women’s writing during her thought-provoking presentation on the work of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Rita Dove, and Luisah Teish. Selected poems by these remarkable women were used to show how within the black literary canon the “divine feminine” has been used as an impetus for self-expression, empowerment and to promote social justice. London offered an in-depth look into each writer’s embodiment of the “witch archetype” and how it purposefully enfeebles colonialism, white supremacy, and misogyny. Every poem was like spellwork and riveting to the core. “won't you celebrate with me” (a must-read from the Book of Light by Lucille Clifton) was an exemplary poem included in this talk.
Alchemy and the Arts of Creation: or what I learned in 50 Years of Alchemical Obsession
Brian Cotnoir (filmmaker, writer, and artist) works with alchemical concepts and processes in order to remake the work of some of the early alchemists in order to gain insight into their cosmological perspective. He has come to the conclusion that any act of creation is, at its core, alchemical. His presentation focused on how physical materials utilized for a creative process (as part of “outer practice”) can be united with the “inner practice” of transmutation on a spiritual level.
In Alchemy, transmutation is the act of converting base elements (e.g. lead) into precious metals (e.g. gold). For example, the base metal lead is the lowest of base metals and could represent an imbalance of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), whilst gold is superior and represents a perfect balance of all four elements. By linking such a “natural” process to an ideology, one may find a way towards inner spiritual “ascent” by way of outer physical practice. It was a highly enjoyable lecture with clear examples of how one can achieve spiritual enlightenment through the act of creating. Even though the context was Alchemy, the gist can be applied to all the arts.
Cotnoir's newest book Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter has recently been released by Khepri Press.
Terrapolis: Chimerical Geometry
Laurel Sparks (artist, teacher, and MacDowell Colony Fellow) held an insightful talk on her adaptation and superimposition of esoteric symbology within her artistic process. Laurel incorporates various principles of Chaos Magic, Kabbalistic theory, and a range of divinatory methodologies to produce a geometric and physical lexicon through mixed media – which is largely inspired by the music of Psychic TV and Einstürzende Neubauten. Her conceptual paintings are often made of woven stained canvas strips embedded with tiny found objects, trinkets, and sometimes glitter. Although the artwork might – at first – come across as abstract and (at times) devoid of feeling, the body of work as a whole was conceptually fascinating and full of esoteric splendor.
Betye Saar and the "Ethnic Occult"
Nectar Knuckles (recently a Curatorial Fellow for The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Museum of Modern Art) gave an in-depth talk on the renowned artist Betye Saar, a notable figure in the Los Angeles Assemblage scene and Black Arts Movement in the 1970s. Saar’s early mystical work is infused with political, spiritual, and sometimes surreal imagery that mixes occult symbolism with folk art elements.
The term “Ethnic Occult” refers to use of both ethnic and occult motifs that echo so profoundly in Saar's art. This included, but was not limited to, her incorporation of occult symbols, gris gris bags, mojos and African fetishes. A profound depth is apparent at every level, including spiritually, psychologically, socially, and artistically.
Tarot as Spiritual Psychology
Rachel Pollack (writer, poet, tarot specialist, and author of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom), sees the tarot as a way to paint a spiritual and psychological portrait of an individual. During her presentation, Rachel gave examples of both Major and Minor Arcana from the Rider-Waite tarot in order to show that Tarot is more than a list of symbols or correspondences. For Pollack, a psychological approach can help us see “the links between our inner selves to the outer world, including the world of spirit.” She explained many of the archetypes found in the Major Arcana, in addition to the underlying system that the Rider Waite tarot embodies, as well as Minor Arcana symbology.
Her most recent book The Beatrix Gates is now available via PM Press.
Panel Discussion: Tarot Today, Tarot Tomorrow
In this informative panel discussion, Pam Grossman (writer and co-organizer of the podcast “Witch Wave” and author of Waking the Witch) spoke with Courtney Alexander (artist, writer, and creator of the “Dust II Onyx: A Melanated Tarot Deck”), Rachel Pollack (writer, poet, and creator of “The Shining Tribe Tarot”), and Cristy C. Road (artist, writer, musician, and creator of the “Next World Tarot”). Each of these women created and designed their own unique tarot deck and offered up their individual perspectives on tarot – as well as its rise in popularity and potential impact in the future.
Courtney Alexander’s experience of creating the "Dust II Onyx: A Melanated Tarot" (which sublimely incorporates original artwork, a loosely Rider-Waite based paradigm, and African Diaspora) was particularly enrapturing – and the deck is as powerful as it is beautiful.
The Giantness’s Apronful
Judith Noble (witch, artist, teacher, co-ordinator of the Black Mirror International Research Network) gave a presentation on a series of magical experiences she had at the ancient megalithic sites of Barclodiad Y Gawres (The Giantess’ Apronful) and Dowth (The Place of Darkness) in County Meath, Ireland. Both ancient sites had been originally used for burial rituals and rites.
Noble's work is about contacting spirits whilst dreaming/asleep (a.k.a. dream incubation) in these places and she believes that art and magic arise from the stones, earth, moon, and sea. She also spoke about making art during eclipses and how special it can be. I've also visited many "spiritual" megalithic sites in the British Isles when I lived in Scotland and perceived a strong connection to the land, sea, moon, and nature. I found Noble's presentation enchanting and the perfect end to a rigorous and heartfelt series of talks and presentations.
For more Enchantments' stories, click here.
By Amber C. Snider
Authors of Tarot for Troubled Times discuss ways we can use the tarot as a vehicle for healing and socially-conscious change.
In an exclusive interview, authors Shaheen Miro and Theresa Reed (Tarot for Troubled Times) get real about the many uses of tarot – including how to work with your shadow self, personal year cards, archetypes, energy as currency, light meditations, and more.
Amber C. Snider: Why is thinking of the Tarot in terms of archetypes useful on a practical level?
Theresa Reed: The archetypes in tarot reflect our daily life and spiritual journey. When we connect with those archetypes, we can check in on our own path. Where are we now? How are we showing up at this time? What can we do to deepen our understanding – or shift gears? Simple reflection (which leads to conscious living) is one of my favorite ways to work with the archetypes.
When we bring awareness to any part of our journey, we can make better, healthier decisions going forward.
Amber: What exactly is the shadow self?
Theresa: The shadow self is the side of ourselves that we tend to hide away from the world. This shadow can be many things, including emotions like anger, fear, grief, and jealousy – or anything that makes us feel ashamed. Often, that’s how the shadow is formed - we do something when we are younger and are told it’s ‘bad’. We’re made to feel defective or unloved if we act a particular way. So we repress those parts of ourselves and this forms the shadow.
This can cause great pain and trauma - and can lead to behaviors that undermine our sense of self. The way to work with the shadow is to befriend, embrace, and, most of all, face it. When we acknowledge the so-called ‘dark’ parts of our persona, real healing can begin.
Amber: How can we work with our shadow to help heal past traumas, behavioral patterns, and negative cycles?
Shaheen Miro: I’ve come to see the shadow as an ally, a teacher, and a dear friend. It is the part of each of us that has been obscured from our vision…we swallow it down, lock it away and try to banish it from our awareness. Yet, it’s like a ghostly visitor bumping around in the night trying to get some attention.
Early life experiences are the breeding grounds of the shadow. You go through a series of experiences that either fortify your 'authentic' self or disconnect you from it. It might sound simplistic, but you either become who you are or who you’re told to be. This means your shadow is created when you are robbed of some essential part of yourself and your personal power.
Begin by asking yourself:
What was once a gift of your identity becomes a mutated, shadowy part of yourself: Turning your self-confidence into vulnerability, your passion into anger, your empathy into sadness or oversensitivity. None of these things are negative or bad, they are just misunderstood or out of focus.
What does your shadow want? It wants to be acknowledged. It seeks life, color and expression. When you learn to befriend the disconnected parts of yourself you can move into expression – a clear, focused, intentional use of your power – rather than an exaggeration. Begin by asking yourself: Does this grow my light or feed my shadow?
Amber: In one section of the book, you discuss 'personal year cards' and 'birth cards,' which are forms of tarot numerology. How can people can figure out their personal year cards and use them to find deeper meaning?
Theresa: The birth cards are based on the work of Angeles Arrien and Mary K Greer. It involves adding up your birthdate and reducing the number until you come down to a number that corresponds to a Major Arcana. For a yearly number, you would take your birth month and day and add it up with the current year.
For example, let’s say you’re born on January 22 and you want to know your number for 2020. You would add up 1 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 0 +2 + 0 = 9. Nine is the number of The Hermit so you would be in a Hermit year, which means 2020 would be an ideal time for introspection. You might want to focus on inner work. Meditation would be an excellent spiritual practice for this year.
Shaheen: I see the personal year card as a guide throughout the year. You can use the power and wisdom of your personal year card to help you navigate the terrain. If your personal year card is the Empress you might ask yourself when faced with a situation…what would the Empress do?
Amber: How can people use the Major Arcana as archetypes (in their personal lives, to help others, and promote progressive social change)?
Theresa: This earth is inhabited by billions of people and creatures. We are not alone and we’re all in this together. It’s not enough to heal ourselves. We must look at what is happening out there in the world and do our part to ensure that the earth is healthy and everyone is cared for.
The yearly archetypes can tell us what needs to be done so all can flourish. For example, next year we are globally in an Emperor year. (2 + 0 + 2 + 0 = 4). The Emperor in its highest form protects. In the lowest nature, it becomes a dictator. How do we ensure that the latter doesn’t happen? By finding our voice and taking right actions to fight oppression. We need to be brave next year or we risk heading into a dark place.
Amber: I loved reading this affirmation in your book: 'Create change through empathy, not force.' Can you talk a little bit more about this idea of empathy, especially when it comes to energy work?
Shaheen: I truly believe we are in a time of great change…change that is happening faster than we can ever wrap our heads around. When faced with change it is natural for us to become defensive. We want to puff ourselves up, draw lines in the sand, and dig our heels in the dirt. We go kicking and screaming into the unknown. In those moments, force feels much easier than empathy. It is easier to point the finger of blame or call out the enemy. But nothing and no one is one dimensional.
If we really want to get through the turbulent times of life we need to feel into things. We need to lean into our empathy. Walk awhile in the other person’s shoes. It takes work…it is a practice. The only way to navigate change is to lean into the current, feel the ebb and flow of the tides.
It’s not enough to heal ourselves. We must look at what is happening out there in the world and do our part to ensure that the earth is healthy and everyone is cared for.
Amber: In part two of the book, you discuss the tarot as a 'mirror on the self.' How can the tarot help us heal?
Theresa: Tarot isn’t just for divination. It can be a remarkable tool for introspection. As we peer at the images in the cards, we can see parts of ourselves, parts that may need to be healed. Tarot cards give us something to ponder and a chance to see where we need to be compassionate with ourselves and others. Interestingly, many therapists are now using tarot in their practices!
Amber: What are some self-care practices that you find the most useful?
Theresa: In Tarot For Troubled Times, we cover a lot of rituals and practices that we’ve both used in our own healing and shadow work. Meditation is my favorite tool, hands down. It can be done anytime, anywhere, and doesn’t cost a dime or require any tool except tuning in. It’s simple, effective, and has changed my own life. Lately, I’ve been getting into self-hypnosis, which has been altering my life in a major way. I’ve been using it to change my habits, moods, and mindset.
Shaheen: Self-care has become somewhat of a buzzword, but it is such an integral part of healing and personal growth. It seems like we’re all seeking a way to navigate through the world and find some semblance of understanding, and that has to begin with yourself.
In the book we discuss practices, simple, and more complex, but approachable for anyone, on any path.The best self-care practice I have found is journaling, doing an inventory of what I am feeling, what I am struggling with and what I am dreaming into life. I also like to go for a walk in nature – it feels like stepping outside of time for awhile.
Amber: In the book, you write about 'energy as currency,' saying that 'everything begins on the energetic level.' Can you talk a little bit about how we can grow, empower, and shift our energy and dispel previously limiting belief systems, including past traumas, and negative self-talk?
Theresa: To make any change, you must begin by bringing awareness to how you feel. Once you start there, you can unravel how you got there and what you need to do to create change. Becoming conscious doesn’t happen overnight. It takes real time and dedication. I recommend paying close attention to how you feel in any given situation. That high level of awareness can help you to see when a situation is traumatic, unhelpful, or positive. From there, you can make change.
Shaheen: We are always trying to prove what we believe to be true, whether or not that belief feels good and empowering, or completely limiting. Most of us are stuck in chronic cycles of belief because we keep choosing the same thing…hoping that it will be different this time. But the truth is, you get to choose what you believe. I encourage you to challenge any of the negative thoughts, ideas, beliefs or feelings you’re experiencing. Really dig deep, excavate your soul to find the truth for you. Rather than holding onto some worn-out perspective, see what happens when you look at life differently.
You came here to be magic! Be empathetic with yourself. That self-care will pour out into the world around you.
Amber: What is EFT and how can people do it?
Shaheen: EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is a method of releasing negative beliefs and stuck energies through a series of ‘tapping points’ on the body. I find EFT to be very helpful because you begin right where you are. There’s no covering up those feelings with some saccharin affirmation about love and light (though I think that can be helpful as well). As you go through a series of tapping gestures you disrupt the energy circuit in your body and consciousness, which allows you to release blocks until you can find a better feeling.
If you’re feeling angry because of your broken relationship, then you start with that. You would begin with a statement, such as, “Even though my relationship is failing…I honor and accept myself fully and completely.” While repeating this statement you tap key points of the body for a few rounds, or until you no longer feel the emotional charge of that feeling.
Amber: You also discuss energy cords and psychic vampires in the book. How can people effectively deal with them and recover any energy loss?
Shaheen: Psychic Vampires sound far scarier than they really are. Folklore tells us that Vampires are creatures that feed on life force. Psychic vampires siphon away energy as a survival mechanism – usually this is a person that you interact with intimately, but even a casual encounter or acquaintance can take on the role of a psychic vampire.
Sometimes this can be very subtle and without any malice at all. Other times it can seem very obvious and may tread into abusive territory. Often you see this in a codependent relationship; Think about the partner that gaslights their spouse. Or, the parent that berates their child into submission. Or, the boss that belittles their employees to feel superior.
One of the simplest ways to identify a psychic vampire is to notice when you feel drained around certain people. The remedy to this is disengaging from the person and situation and setting strong boundaries. NO is the magic word against Psychic Vampires.
Tarot has endless possibilities, but the magic of tarot lies in its ability to show us things from a different perspective. It gives us a chance to have deep conversations, to break down walls and barriers, to look beyond the boundaries of our own box with expanded awareness.
Amber: Spiritual hygiene and cleansing your aura is an important part of everyday life. Do you have any personal anecdotes associated with times when you’ve used either the white light visualization, ultraviolet light visualization, or cloak of black velvet visualization? If so, can you describe it?
Theresa: When I first began my career as a tarot reader, I would often get depleted from the work. It’s like I was absorbing all of my clients’ energy and holding on to it. I didn’t realize how vital spiritual hygiene was for myself at the time and this lead to burn out as well as major boundary issues with ne’er do wells. I began using a white light visualization every day and that changed everything for me. Don’t get me wrong: I still have days where the work gets under my skin. But the white light shield helps to deflect most of it - and a quick visualization after work helps to reboot the light - and me.
Shaheen: I began working with the black velvet visualization as a teenager when I would find myself in threatening situations like walking into a place that might not be LGBTQ+ friendly or where some sort of conflict was taking place. I would imagine myself wrapped in black velvet as a way to obscure me from harm, almost like becoming invisible to anyone or thing that might target me. At the same time the energy of black absorbs and transmutes negative energy… I believe this is why mystics, witches and people on the fringe gravitate toward the color black.
Amber: How can we use the tarot to become a more socially conscious force in this world, a vehicle for change, an ally, an activist?
Theresa: Understanding the energy of the world – and how you might be most effective – can make you a force for good. We are living in troubled times and the world is not all ‘love and light.’ Tarot helps us to see what may be going on from both the positive and the negative – and hopefully, that inspires us to take action.
Shaheen: Through the tarot you can remove yourself, even just a little, from a situation so you can find possibilities and connections that you might have otherwise overlooked. I believe tarot encapsulates a profound truth…we are far more connected than we know! What I do to you, I am doing to myself and vice versa. Tarot becomes the bridge between chasms of disconnection, and through those connections we can heal individually and collectively.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
To purchase Tarot for Troubled Times, click here or visit Enchantments' brick-and-mortar store in New York City.
By Amber C. Snider
An enchanting new spells deck debuted this month and we’re over the moon about it. Here, we speak to author Cat Cabral about ways to use her wonderfully witchy creation.
Cat Cabral, a once familiar face behind the Enchantments’ apothecary counter, has been honing her Craft for over 20 years. Her debut spells deck (appropriately called The Spells Deck) is jam-packed with 78 charms, remedies, and rituals for witches everywhere. Not only is it a cross-pantheon resource for both seasoned practitioners and newcomers to witchcraft, it’s also a beautifully designed work of art.
As a witch’s divination tool and intuitive guide, The Spells Deck is broken down into eight thoughtfully-curated categories based on intention and ritual. There is the Witch’s Tools category (insight into all the witchy paraphernalia we love), Language of Magic (an overview of symbols and sigils), Bonds of Love (rituals for healing hearts and self-love), Abundance and Good Fortune (‘cause we can all use a little extra dough). There’s also Rites of Purification and Renewal (for cleansing, protection, and connecting with the earth), Fires of Passion and Creativity (rituals for passion and courage), Intuitive Awareness (for enhancing divination), and Witch’s Familiars (animals guides and mythology).
“I wanted it to be a guide for witchcraft. I wanted to set it up as ‘here are the tools you need to practice and here's how you can map it out,’” Cat Cabral tells me over coffee in Park Slope one early autumn afternoon. “And then there are the different categories that – universally speaking – all humans want to connect with, whether it's love, success, intuition, feeling,” she says.
Cat’s passion for witchcraft (and the generous sharing of her expertise) is palpable not only in real life, but also within the soft flip of the impeccably designed deck. It features a minimalist, abstract card design using a mix of soft beige-pinks, bleeding black strokes, hushed greys, and muted yellow tones. There are exclusive recipes for incense and magical oil blends, and each card contains a symbol that can be carved into a candle to enhance your spellwork.
But you can also use the card like a tarot deck: “I want people to mix them up, play with them, spread them out and then just kind of feel it out and see, 'Oh, I've picked Queen of Torches...this is a recipe about confidence.’ Whether or not you feel inclined to make this exact recipe, maybe tapping into your confidence is something you want to think about,” Cat says.
“The Queen of Torches spell is wonderful,” she muses. “I make this oil for myself and I love it. But you could also just buy frankincense and that will work for confidence. Rose is really good to heal the heart and orange helps with depression.”
“These are my suggestions, but at the end of the day, I don't want people to think they have to spend an elaborate amount of money to be a witch, you know?”
So what exactly is ritual? And why is it so important in magical work? “For me, ritual is about creating a separate and sacred moment in time where you can connect to Divine Spirit, God/Goddess, Ancestors, whatever you want to call ‘It’ – and also connecting to yourself,” Cat says. “Ritual is also a really good way of connecting with other people.” Cat regularly conducts magical circles, especially around pagan holidays, some of which are open to the public.
Ritual doesn’t have to be an elaborately performed ceremony, but anything that allows us to get centered and ready ourselves for encounters with the Divine Spirit. “We have rituals every day...the way we comb our hair or brush our teeth. In doing a ritual [with intention], you're sending out certain signals to the Universe that this is what you want to happen on an energetic level,” Cat says. “I'm a witch that does believe in a higher power – but some don't. Intention coupled with action is really the key to how magic works."
Cat says ritual can also include language in the form of chanting, or dancing, or visualization, or even sex – but the most important thing is to raise energy. “Anything that heightens your senses [can help in a] variety of spell work.”
Using The Spells Deck as an intuitive guide to manifest intention was one of Cat’s goals in the deck’s creation: “Your intention could be, ‘I feel really stuck right now, nothing seems to be working, I really want to do a ritual for clarity.’ So I have a spell in here called ‘Lucidity.’ There’s a chant you can do and it also involves carving a big cross on the top of a white skull candle to open up roads, as well as plants and oils that traditionally have to do with clarity.”
The hardest part of spell work, Cat admits, is letting it go after you’ve performed the spell: “At the height of it, (when you've raised your energy and it affects the chant and you keep repeating it), you then just have to let it go. You just have to see what happens next.
And that's the most difficult part with magic because so many people are results-oriented only. People ask me, ‘How do I know if the spell works? Did I do it properly?’ There is always an outcome to a magical action –yet it may not appear the way you expect or bring about the result you initially imagined. But that's part of the journey, learning lessons and interpreting messages, it's all part of the craft."
To purchase Cat Cabral’s The Spells Deck, which debuted on October 17th from Chronicle Books, click here.
By Ana Vice
Here are five ways you can use the “power of the cat” in your attraction and healing candle spells.
Cat candles look, well...just like a cat. These image candles come in white, black, green, and red. They are traditionally used for luck, attraction, or healing pets (usually cats but some people have used them for dogs). But they can also be used for human needs and desires, too.
Here are five ways you can work magic with cat candles:
Purification or healing ritual for a pet
Use a white cat candle. First, begin by taking a cleansing bath, such as Uncrossing or Obatala Healing sea salt bath (or smudging yourself and space with sage). Then, set your intention for purification or healing, and light the white cat candle with your pet’s name and astrological sign carved into it. Focus your energy on clearing away any and all negativity. Uncrossing or Kyphi are good oils for this purpose.
For healing, Asclepius Healing oil can be used. Optional: Burn some Uncrossing or Asclepius Healing incense as the candle burns (depending on which candle spell you choose).
Send a message of love to a deceased pet or bring a lost pet to come home
Use a white cat candle. After taking a sea salt cleansing bath (or smudging yourself and space with sage), set your intention for sending a message of love. Next, light the white cat candle with your pet’s name and astrological sign carved into it. Love’s Messenger is a good oil for this purpose or you can use Come to Me oil in order to bring a lost pet home focus your energy on the pet finding its way home. The intention would be to call the lost pet safely home asap.
Sexual attraction ritual for humans using a cat image candle
Use a red cat candle. After taking a cleansing bath with Siren's Seduction or Bad Ass!, set your intention for sexual attraction. Then, light the red cat candle with your name and astrological sign carved into it. This can be for heterosexuals, transsexuals, homosexuals, and genderqueer individuals.
For example, Cat’s Night Love oil can be used for gay women, Oscar Wilde Oil or Hyakintos Lover Oil for gay men, or Great Sex could be good in general for this. We also carry other sensual blends. Like with other rituals mentioned here, you can also burn intention-specific incense during the time of the ritual.
Double fast luck or prosperity ritual
Use a green cat candle. After taking a cleansing bath, (a Fast Luck sea salt bath is great here), smudge yourself and space with sage or incense. Then set your intention for good luck and/or prosperity, and light the candle with your name and astrological sign carved into it.
Double Fast Luck or Prosperity are good oils to use for this.
Use a black cat candle. After taking a cleansing bath with the Rebirth sea salt bath blend, set your intention to remove bad luck as you light the candle. You can carve your name and astrological sign directly onto the candle. Banishing is a good oil for this purpose, but be very careful about your intention here (and be as specific as possible) so you don't banish the good (positivity) or your spirit guides. Optional: burn some Banishing incense as the candle burns.
To learn more about wax image candle spells, check out this article.
By Coleman Drew
A Witch went into the woods of Vermont in search of answers and instead discovered the beauty of living inside the questions.
As a queer artist living and witching in NYC, I realized I needed “someplace without any trouble” for a spell. I had no idea one would appear in the form of a Faerie Sanctuary. You might even say it was my destiny to discover it.
Nancy the Girl, my friend and Faerie Goddess Mother, has been apart of the Fae community for years. She’d been trying to get me to join in the fun and the stars aligned – quote literally with Mercury going stationary and a new Moon – to bring me into the fold just in time for Lammas. Now you might be asking yourself: What is a Faerie, let alone a Faerie Camp? And what does it mean to be Fae? Well quite simply, it’s a way of life. And it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced until you’ve lived it – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
I figured time in the woods without the bright, glowing distraction of computer screens that will never love me back would be the perfect place to answer some pressing life questions: What are you working towards? Are you living life as you want to create it? And if home is suppose to come from inside, why do I feel so lost? Ya know, all those summertime-sadness-seasonal-depression-kinda-existential-quandaries.
I think everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has a friend or a friend of a friend who is a Fae, so I’d heard of the radical faeries before. But being a Virgo rising, I of course, did some Googling before deciding that this was the place for my answer-seeking-pilgrimage.
Here’s what I found: The Radical Faerie movement began amongst gay men around the time of the Sexual Revolution in the ‘70s. Since then it’s become a larger counter-cultural movement that seeks to “redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality,” including modern Paganism, environmentalism, and anarchism. Thank you, Wikipedia. Big ‘fuck the patriarchy’ and ‘help the environment’ energy, while still maintaining their grassroots in LGBTQ+ circles.
Located on 166 acres of reforested farmland in southern Vermont, this co-created, co-working queer community also helps people “cope and heal from a hostile Default World” through a series of gatherings and workshops. Think wellness classes, chainsaw workshops, gardening and permaculture methods, and sexual health workshops for queer and trans folk – you know, all the stuff they rarely teach you about in the “hetero” public school system.
Today, Destiny is also open to men, women and everything in between, and Faeries come in from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and all over the world. The community that resides in the sanctuary works together doing chores, preparing meals, building and tending gardens, and holding spiritual space for one another. The idea is that by giving your time you honor those who are also giving their energy for the good of the community. Essentially it’s about co-creating a home of love for all to share – in hopes that you feel a divine connection to the space that you're helping to provide for.
Before I took the 5-five hour ride up to Faerie country, I had no idea what to expect other than a vague outline of stories. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was ready to check out of the city for a week. Standing at the bus stop on East 42nd Street, I watched as scads of people rushed onto their Monday morning obligations. All these people trying their damndest not to connect with anyone; trying to stay hermetically sealed in their own energetic bubble. Stephen Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” from Company played in my earbuds, and I took one more drag from my one-hitter before boarding the Dartmouth Coach.
It was probably the fanciest bus I’ve ever been on; style and efficiency are a Capricorn’s wet dream.
So here I was going to Faerie camp. I set some intentions along the way: to make time for recalibrating and grounding, to refine dreams, reaffirm goals. I also wanted to address some growing feelings of anxiety and depression. Oftentimes when things seem to be spiraling out of control, the impulse is to dig in and regain the power we have seemingly lost. But I was looking for the opposite.
Being a child who grew up in the country I was really jazzed to take the trip up to Vermont, especially to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Once in Vermont, I was scooped up by my guide – my Sherpa and host – Nancy, and after a few last minute stops to get provisions for the adventures to come, into the forest we went! As soon as we drove onto the dirt road that leads to Destiny I was hit with a powerful wave of nostalgia, almost like I’d been there before.
We noticed various campsites and tents set up along the driveway and forest, including a yurt, cute cabin, and shed overflowing with odds and ends, costumes and props. “That's the art shed. Everything is up for grabs there,” Nancy said, gently gesturing to the shack teeming with possibilities. The main building stood near a large clearing where the meadow stretched above and beyond our line of vision.
I was taken aback by the beautiful gardens bursting with wildflowers. Purple-blue bee balm, black-eyed Susans, zinnias and echinacea exploded like colorful fireworks. I would later pick some of these wildflowers in the middle of the night to make flower crowns by the fire with Faerie friends. Aesthetic wise, yes there were strong Midsommar vibes but without any of the horror aspects.
There was also an outdoor shower perched on a hill with breathtaking views of the mountainside. Atop the meadow, the forest hid a path that led up to the Crown’s circle where the community holds spiritual space for group rituals and fire gatherings. Deeper into the forest is also the Dead Faerie Circle: a place of remembrance, honoring those Faeries who’ve crossed on, some of whom have chosen this spot as their final resting place. And lastly, the Hecate Circle: another sacred fire space and the stage for where our ritual theatre would later come to life.
Before we could unload everything from the car, we were immediately greeted by a stream of Faeries. The common greeting for faeries upon arrival is simple but effective: “Welcome home.” Now, being a best friend of Dorothy I was giddy inside and soon fashioned a response to nearly everyone I met the first day. Whenever someone welcomed me home, I replied: “There's no place like it…” in my best Garland vibrato. My joke was not lost on many. I will say I have never kissed so many people I just met before on the mouth – and this form of affection and intimacy had a profound effect on me. It perhaps woke me up from a Sleeping Beauty spell I didn't even know I was under.
Over the course of the week, the sanctuary would welcome over 200 faeries.
At the edge of the garden a family of chickens happily clucked behind their electric fence side note: nobody was harmed, but I did get to chase and catch a chicken who had flown over the fence trying to escape to the compost pile . Later on in the week, I caught the same hen out of the pen and said to her, “You have two choices, you can either fly over the fence yourself or I’m going to have to pick you up and put you back myself.” With a cluck as if to say, “I get it”, she flew back into pen with the other chicks. This Witch can, apparently also, talk to birds.
In the beautiful timber frame main structure, a straw bale kitchen (all hand-built by the Faeries), it would have been difficult to not feel at home. It also doesn’t hurt that there are many attractive faeries wearing – or shall I say not wearing – whatever they please. A most wondrous thing to see so many people unburden themselves from societal constraints, no shame here. Because after all, shame can’t live in the light.
The first day we settled into camp, I was able to wander around the gardens and got very comfortable peeing outside. A lot of mouth kissing hellos, faerie welcomes and introductions. I chatted with new friends around the circle’s, there are many, and got to play dress up in the woods. But more than anything, I was able to just breathe deeply. There’s nothing more important than that feeling of security, a place safe enough to call home. It’s one thing people in the LGBTQ+ community understand all too well – having grown up in a world that is, for the most part, girded towards a more hetero experience. Being able to be your most authentic self in a beautiful environment calls for a delicious sigh of relief.
Once I had spent 24 hours in faerie space I finally felt I had landed. I began to get my faerie legs, or wings as it were, under the guidance of Nancy. I was encouraged to get involved in the daily routine of the faeries. I helped prepare our breakfast and dinners in the magickally witchy kitchen and was also convinced to join in on the ritual theater.
Each year, the Faeries celebrate Lammas with an original theatrical performance. Lammas, “loaf-mass” or Lughnasadh as it’s sometimes called, is the first of the harvests celebrated on the wheel of the year in many Wiccan, Neopagon and Celtic traditions. Like Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane, Lammas is one of the four main cross-quarter holidays, coinciding with the changes of season and highlights the sacrifices made for the greater good. “God” or male energy is represented as the grain being cut down by the Goddess or Divine femine in service for sustaining humanity. It’s a time of recognizing and honoring the sacrifices that had to be made for the beautiful things that feed us and help us to grow. So yeah, no big deal, right?
Every year a new “Magician” is selected to write and direct an original work for the ritual of honoring Lammas. Kaitlyn Tikkun, a strikingly breathtaking character who gave me strong Diana Artemis vibes, was the magician for this year and crafted an adaptation of the graphic novel and cartoon Watership Down. Kaitlyn’s version highlighted the horrors of the AIDS crisis that would later inspire queer liberation in the form of the radical faeries movement.
The play was performed in the middle of the woods at the end of the week – in the black of night lit by torches. It was pure magick – organic, radical, and unapologetically mystical. A performer myself, I’ve never gotten to celebrate the magick of theatre coming together seemingly out of nothing quite like this before. It felt like I was connecting with my roots in a way I'd long forgotten.
Even outside of the ritual theater, the entire week was jam-packed with magick. One of the rituals included each of us bringing a small totem or writing down what we wished to be free of, posing the question, “What did we wish to uncross?’ Uncrossing is anything that no longer serves our higher power and our highest good. During the ritual we asked to remove anything that was holding us back from our activism, anything blocking us from answering our call to service.
We gathered at the lowest fire space called the Crown Circle. After the circle was cast and our intentions named, our items and petitions were deposited into the vessel that was to be buried. Fifty plus faeries moved as a group through the darkness on a torchless path. We raised energy chanting along the way, it was wild and electric. Emotions were high and coming fast. There was an immense feeling of release, relief and with every ending, a bit of heartache. It was our moment of mourning that which no longer served us – all those things that would no longer hold us back.
Like all magick, I believe it belongs to those who’ve created and crafted it together in a sacred space during a specific time. I went to Faerie camp because I needed a safe place to surrender. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from finding your own way to Faerie space or any other magickal place that beckons you. Your reasons might be different, but the important thing with all magick is to be willing to answer the call when you receive it. Go see for yourself what adventures await you on the other side. Maybe you’ll come face to face, or mouth to mouth as it were, with a new kind of shared intimacy. Or your concept of home might expand. At the very least connecting to nature and community isn’t bad on the soul either. Wherever you find yourself on your journey, I hope there are people to greet you when you arrive, ”Welcome home.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Faerie space and/or donating to the Faerie sanctuary please follow the link here.