A Celebration of Magical Education, Commerce, Community & Activism
I've had a little time to digest the delightful whirlwind that was The Salem Summer Symposium, but I'm not entirely sure I have my thoughts in order as it were. So this review is likely going to contain some rambling and some moments of me marking memories.
First and foremost, previous to attending in 2019, I had never been to a conference that was not related to my employment. I'd never even been to a fan based convention. So I doubled down on astrologer Austin Coppock's phase: showing up in person is a revolutionary act. Not only did I show up, I was way outside my comfort zone, in a city I really haven't visited since I was child. And I knew no one there. Sure, I'd had some slight interactions with a few of the presenters on social media (granted, I'd had more private interactions with Michael M Hughes, but we'd still not met in person), but I went in with no friends. And this Gemini, Scorpio Rising doesn't always make the best first impressions.
Why does he tell us this? Because from the first moments of the Welcome Dinner on Wednesday night, I felt right at home. Sitting down to dinner with a table full of strangers is never going to be easy, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that it was impossible not to be at ease. And to hear the founders and organizers (Justice The Wizard, Matthew Venus and Jacqui Allouise-Roberge) welcome us and open the Symposium with so much emotion, I truly knew I was in the right place.
I stayed at the Hawthorne Hotel, where many of the symposium's events were held and the organizers had secured rooms at a reduced rate for travelers. The hotel was wonderful; quaint and a little quirky, but with the amenities one expects (its on the Register of Historic Hotels) and even has a pet friendly floor. The staff there was gracious, helpful and very welcoming and they didn't so much as bat an eye at the parade of witches, wizards, conjure men and pagan priests. It is Salem, after all.
I find myself struggling with how to condense the experience, because I could go on for pages (well, at least a couple pages), I'd love to share with you all about the wonderful people I met, and everything I learned...but that's not really the point, is it? You're here reading this because you want to know if it was a worthwhile investment of both time and money and would I go again, given the chance. In short: yes and hell, yes.
I did not attend much of the late evening, night time events and I wish that I could have (in the midst of an ordeal that requires me to be up at dawn each day, which is hard enough as it is... but more on that at another time). Next time, I very much intend to attend everything I can. And that was definitely one of the issues (though a good one): there was too much going on, too many intriguing presentations, and until I learn to bi-locate, I'm just going to have to accept the fact that I have to choose.
But I did attend some wonderful presentations that taught me quite a bit, and often moved me and touched me at my very core.
The first presentation that I attended was Pagan Conceptions of the Self by the wonderful Kadmus, some of whose work I was familiar with before attending. Kadmus' presentation affirmed for me our shared passion for the Greeks and the PGM, and pointed out that I need to learn my Homer much better (Jake Stratton-Kent has also pointed this out many times) and that I really should learn to read Greek for a multitude of reasons. It was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Kadmus, and I hope we get the chance to converse more.
Sometimes magic happens. For various reasons, I ended up next at The Cauldron Black. I was going to a presentation on candle magic. But thanks to a random shuffle, what I ended up attending was the Salem Witch Power Immersion presented by Nick Dickinson (this is also the first moment I met Michael M Hughes in person... I saw him from across the room and was greeted warmly... the beginning of what I think may well turn out to be a life-long friendship). I had most definitely not intended to be there... the Salem Witch archetype is problematic for me, it is not one that resonates with me. But this is where I found myself, with quite a crowd of other attendees. Trusting to chance, I stayed. And witnessed one of the more powerful events, for me at least, of the entire weekend. The Witch is still The Witch, no matter how She is attired. And there were elements that I had not anticipated, brought in by the presenter, more Greek elements, that fascinated me and had quite an effect on me... an actual physical effect. While Nick performed a clearing/cleansing ritual for the attendees, I recognized that I was carrying an enormous amount of tension in my neck. As Nick did his thing (and I have to pause for a moment and tell you that the back room at The Cauldron Black does not have weird acoustics, but I heard Nick's voice echo strangely around the room, until it sounded like he was whispering directly in my ear from behind me), I tried to relax my neck and absorb what I could. I did mange to ease some of the tension, and as Nick brought that part of the ritual to a close, three vertebrae in my neck popped in sequence: pop, pop, pop. I've never had something like that happen before without someone laying their hands on me.
Next up was Trans-Atlantic Cunning with Dr. Alexander Cummins. I had never directly interacted with Dr. Al, though I was familliar with him and his work via his website, social media and podcast experiences. I was lucky enough to meet him at the Welcome Dinner and further interact with him over the course of the weekend. The Doctor is utterly charming, fast on his feet and truly, truly funny. His presentation was thoroughly enjoyable and very informative and the perfect right dose of magic and history for the event.
After dinner and before the screening of Häxan, there was a moderately attended and somewhat spirited open mic event where yours truly got up in front of an audience for the first time in literally decades and shared his weak attempts at verse (drawing heavily from my muses: The Boy Wonder Years and The Forty Servants). I was relatively well recieved, or at least politely so.
The next morning began with An Introduction to Jewish Magic - the Magical Scriptures, Amulets & Teachings of the Children of Israel presented by Brother Moses. I was very much looking forward to this, having spent some years brushing up against Jewish culture on the East Side of Providence and of course being exposed to elements of it through the ceremonial magic of the Golden Dawn era mages. Brother Moses did not disappoint. An Old Testament conjure worker and hoodoo man, Brother Moses was a powerful and adroit presenter. I very much wanted to attend his second presentation on spirit workings, but I had to be elsewhere.
The next time slot was truly problematic as I wanted to be at every single presentation (if only I was Madrox, The Multiple Man). But there was really only one place I could be, and that was at Double Trouble Geomancy Power Hour with the aforementioned Dr. Cummins and the equally charming and affable: Sam Block also known as polyphanes of The Digital Ambler. Once you've spent a few years rolling around occult texts, you'll hear about Geomancy in one way or another. But finding people who practice and teach it has become sort of a rare thing. So, to have two of the leading, contemporary practitioners teaching an introduction to it, together... had to go. Sam and Dr. Al were great together, and I learned quite a lot (I actually took notes) and enjoyed myself thoroughly at this presentation.
Friday afternoon I got another dose of Geomancy from Sam Block with his presentation on Geomantic Divination and Theurgy. Sam amazes me. His dedication to the art (he's going to laugh when he reads this) is astounding. I love reading his blog, and getting to see him present was fantastic and I was really looking forward to meeting him. His presentation on further elements of Geomancy was a fantastic dessert to follow the earlier class given by himself and Dr. Al. Geomancy is definetly on my radar now and something I need to open up to some serious study.
Friday wrapped up with what I heard were some powerful public and private ritual performances, including a procession from the Feast of Diana ritual through the streets of Salem to the infamous Witch House for the private performance of Anti-Lux. By all reports these were powerful, and again... wish I had been there (yeah, its starting to sound like I wimped out. What's an ordeal if you aren't straining? But... fucking dawn was at 5:00 in the morning for a while there around the Solstice and I still haven't quite caught up on my sleep).
On Saturday morning I got to sit down for a very personal session with Justice The Wizard for his Purge/Purify/Power-Up presentation. I was the only person in attendance, and though he was clearly tired from the first two days of the event and the rituals the night before, Justice gave me his whole presentation, one on one. And it was fantastic. This was the second, physically affecting moment for me... during his cleansing process he used a rattle made of shells and I could literally feel the waves rippling across certain parts of my body as he used the implement. This was truly something that I will remember for a very long time, getting to meet and work with one of the organizers so closely.
After lunch on Saturday, I got to sit down with Michael M Hughes for his presentation on Magic for the Resistance. This was less well attended than I had hoped for, but Michael had just been in Salem a few months previously. Still, Mr Hughes put on his presentation for a small but appreciative and attentive gathering. I've already said that you should own his book, but it bears repeating: you should own his book. And if you get the chance to meet him in person or hear him speak, jump at it. You won't be disappointed.
Through all the random shuffles, chance meetings and fortuitous happenings, all roads led to Saturday afternoon. I had no way of knowing that this was the reason I was here. I thought I was coming to meet Michael, and Sam, and Dr Al, and Jesse Hathaway; and I was, certainly. But I was really there to meet someone I had never heard of before: the inimitable Professor Charles Porterfield.
It was SRO at The Cauldron Black for Professor Porterfield's The Crossroads: Center of the World presentation. I was happy to stand. I had met the professor over the course of the first few days, and had the chance to speak to him a little bit. I missed his first presentation on Playing Cards in Hoodoo, Rootwork and Conjure (maybe next year), so there was no way I was going to miss The Crossroads....
I took away several things from the (First Inaugural) Salem Summer Symposium, including several friendships. But some of the most powerful words spoken to me those few days in August were uttered by Professor Porterfield. Some of them were an answer to a question that I had not asked:
If it works it's true
If it's good enough for you it's good enough for me
As I said on social media, I've been looking for my way into conjure for probably 45 years. Professor Porterfield was kind enough to point out that door was right in front of me the entire time.
The professor's presentation on The Crossroads had me cheering, laughing and, indeed, crying. It was a tour de force of magical philosophy, history and practice and it affected me profoundly. I can not recommend strongly enough that you go and see him speak if you ever have the chance.
After that, I was ready for a drink; and I don't drink.
Luckily, the Mercato Delle Streghe and The Black Cat Cabaret followed this in short order. I had a wonderful time attending both, and mostly wrapping up the events of the Symposium and thanking and saying my goodbyes to the wonderful people I met.
I suppose I should wrap this up with some sort of summary, but I don't think I can do it justice (no pun). So I will simply end with the sentiment that I heard from many folks: I can not wait until next year.