Sacred Space lives up to its description as a conference for intermediate to advanced esoteric and magical practitioners. That’s pretty high praise, when you think about it.
The draw at Sacred Space is the presentations and rituals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing chance to connect with old and new friends from around the region and more, and the interactions and chance talks or meals together are fantastic, but an introvert who didn’t know very many people could go to Sacred Space and get a lot out of it without any of that happening, if she was interested in intermediate to advanced ideas and practices.
What you won’t see, by and large, at Sacred Space, is the kind of lazy intellectual “recycling” that keeps us awash in Wicca 101 part the kajillionth and yet sparsely prepared for Wicca 201 or practicing in the real world. Many of the presenters at Sacred Space are deeply involved in their subject material. As an academic myself, I especially appreciate it when people have a deep intellectual grasp of their subject, whether that’s reflected in reading ancient texts or assimilating a breadth of current material, or serious study across traditions.
When Gwendolyn Reece presented on Athena, for example, her strong grasp of the ancient texts was synthesized with her own perspective through Kabala, resulting not just a skilled retelling of some of the myths, but some interesting suggestions for alternative possible meanings, and she took care to differentiate one from the other.
I can also see and appreciate that most presenters at Sacred Space have a richness of experience measured not just in years of practice but in the ways they’ve put their ideas into action in the world. You can be fairly sure that a presentation at Sacred Space will not be someone’s rehashing of just one book they read, or a mismash of someone else’s blog posts half-digested and regurgitated at random.
Christopher Penzcak’s presentation related to his book on the 12 Gates of Witchcraft, for example, showed the way he worked to synthesize the breadth of his experience. He explicitly said that he encourages his students to cross-train outside their natural comfort zones in terms of magical techniques, and he shared a lot of comparing and contrasting ideas in different areas. The only downside was that he spent so much time on the background of his topic that he really only touched on about half of his 12 categories; I wish he had gauged his use of time better in that talk.
Sacred Space also tries to be fairly broad in its coverage. Having Luisah Teish as a featured presenter this year brought in an emphasis on the African Diaspora traditions, for example. They bring in featured presenters from outside the region to give us in this area a taste of Paganism from other centers, which makes it a great opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see West Coast teachers, for example.
There are usually a fair number of folks from the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel; I get the strong impression that ASW deliberately fosters the kind of intellectual engagement with Wicca and the Western mystery traditions in general that prepares its members to present here, and they do credit to their tradition when they do, but this is not “ASW’s conference.” One of the things I have very much enjoyed, though, is when ASW pulls people together to do rituals, because they put a lot of work into presenting good rituals, and I encourage you to check them out if you ever attend. Maggi Setti’s ritual to Brigid drew on lots of different pieces of symbolism, and I think a lot of the benefit to me from that ritual is going to be returning to those symbols and contemplating them at different times and in different contexts.
Another amazing ritual is the Conjure Dance. This is a unique opportunity to enjoy wonderful drummers and chants and to see and make offerings to deities and powers from all over the world. That in and of itself would be both a good party and an education. This setting, though, is the foundation for a powerful possession ritual. It’s very difficult to describe, but well worth experiencing.
One of the things Sacred Space does not focus on is vending. Don’t get me wrong – there are vendors, and quite good ones, at Sacred Space. I get more interesting and unusual high-quality stones there than just about anywhere else, and there was some amazing art. But shopping opportunities are secondary to providing a solid conference in terms of quality presentations, so if you think you’re coming to Pagan Ren Faire, you’ll be disappointed.
My only real frustrations at Sacred Space had to do with the hotel hosting the conference. Just like any conference-at-hotel situation, there are apt to be bottlenecks at mealtimes as everyone tries to squeeze in breakfast or lunch during the same time period. The Holiday Inn we were at did not handle these things very well, and since it’s a distinctly suburban location, the only alternatives require a car. I would encourage people attending to plan ahead for those issues, pack some snacks, and do a lot of deep breathing. The influx of several youth hockey groups on Friday and Saturday also led to some interesting dissonances; that wasn’t even the hotel’s fault, and from what I heard, they tried to communicate between the groups where needed, mostly requests for quiet.
On the whole, Sacred Space is a well-crafted, high-quality regional conference that draws featured presenters from across the country to present on topics of interest to intermediate to advanced magical and esoteric practitioners and to create engaging rituals.
NB: I am obviously not objective, since I also presented at Sacred Space this year. I did my best to leave that out of consideration.