From time to time I am hired to teach at various Pagan events. This is an opportunity for me to speak to those aspects of my own practice that I believe hold value for others, such as the deep work of confronting our own shadows, as well as exploring the spiritual relationship between ourselves and the consciousness of the land. In recent years I have scaled-down my teaching trips as I have been focusing more on building my store, The Mystic Dream, as well as Black Rose, the online school of witchcraft that I founded along with my partners Chas Bogan and Devin Hunter. While this has been a good thing, I have been feeling the pull toward traveling once more where I can work with others and help light those sacred fires of inspiration and power which is the deep work I am called to do. When the fellows at Coph Nia approached me I was more than happy to accept and began preparing for what I imagined to be a fun-filled event.
I was familiar with the facilitators as they had been part of the team that had put on another similar event which I had the pleasure of attending for several years. Though I had always wished to have the opportunity to return, it was just never in the cards for me, and so when I was approached by Coph Nia I was thrilled at being given the opportunity to potentially reclaim some sense of community that I had lost in the intervening years.
The venue was gorgeous. The land was singing with life and had several beautiful areas for gathering and ritual. Flushing toilets and both individual and group showers (with hot water!) provided a much needed sense of comfort. The dining hall was a large, clean, covered space, open to the outdoors. This doubled as a gathering area for some of the festivals’ several events, such as “Queer-E-oke”, various social games, as well as the “Masked Ball & Sensual Feast”, a voluptuary celebration of eroticism, sensuality, and spiritual connection expressed through food, drink, dancing, and a call toward sensual expression guided by the principle of loving consent that is a regular staple at this festival. For this event, attendees are asked to dress in fabulous and sexy costumes of their choosing. And fabulous they were, from capes to cloaks to fancy coats to leather harnesses. Masks, make-up, and body paint also played a role in transforming the participants into an explosion of brilliant celebration and pride. All gathered and joined in an invocation to the Old Powers to bring us whatever it was that we needed for the night to be. Those of us who were inspired, stepped forward to make a call to our gods or to those principals that we hold dear: A call to Eros to bring sensuality and desire. To Inanna to bring us the gift of “non-marital love”. My own offering: an invocation to the Faery Blue God to reveal our “inner peacock”, that we could strut in our dance and feel our divine beauty. Other calls included those for confidence… respect… transformation… healing… and “just a smidge of safety”, lest our ecstatic revelry cause us to lose out heads entirely and take us to places we would otherwise not wish to go. We all enjoyed the company of several open-hearted men whose beauty –both inside and out– shone brightly in the dark of night, whether it was through sharing a drink, sharing a laugh, a story, a dance, or even a kiss under the stars. Later we would dance around the fire to the sounds of drums, singing chants old and new and reveling in the sheer fact that we were alive.
Another feature at this event was the Temple of Gugulanna, the bisexual god of masculinity who hails from ancient Sumer. This was a safe-space in which to participate in sacred sexual rites set-aside from the common areas. This allowed those who wished to participate a space to do so without intruding upon those who did not. There were a few rules about using the space, the most important and well-communicated was that of honoring consent: no one was expected to participate and above all else, “no means no”. I myself had considered attending one of the rituals held there, but for a variety of reasons I did not. Those participants with whom I spoke after their experiences there each communicated to me a sense of love, connection, respect, and healing.
The community that organizes Coph Nia, the Ordo Aeternus Vovin (or OAV), describes themselves as “a religious not-for-profit that seeks to teach gay and bisexual men spiritual tools for self-mastery and for living a more fulfilling life.” Drawing from Thelema and ceremonial magick, they offered some powerful rituals centering around building queer community. We drummed, and sang, and danced all in the name of this shared connection and the intention to pass the seeds of community onward to feed future generations of queer brothers.
My personal experience at Coph Nia was quite powerful, even more than I could have expected. The theme was ‘Chrysalis’ and indeed this was the symbolic seed that was planted deeply in my psyche, and that worked its magic over the course of the few days that we all held space together. My own workshops centered around finding both our beauty and our darkness and holding both as sacred. A common theme in the work that I offered was to allow our inner beauty to shine, to “shake our tail-feathers”, and to reclaim the power of our previous wounds so that we could move forward, whole and strong. But as powerful and transformational as those rites and the rites and workshops of others were, it wasn’t just the formal rituals or exercises that worked this transformation on this emerging brotherhood. It was also the little times in-between. Sharing laughter with a communal meal. The hugs given when chancing upon one another on a hike or a stroll. The stories shared. The songs sang. The secrets whispered.
One of the many nights shared around the fire revealed just how transformational this work had been for me personally, which surprised a few. Some had assumed that since I teach rituals and techniques that encourage acceptance and inner beauty that I must be an ‘expert’ in the embodiment of those ideals. What resulted was a discussion about how “we teach what we need to learn”. I am not teaching others how to see their inner beauty because I find it to be easy work. I teach it because it is so very hard. My own path has been a long journey of self-acceptance, and one that is still unfolding. Receiving positive feedback, energy, laughter, and touch from those gathered there was catalytic in assisting me in reevaluating my own sense of self-worth and esteem and addressing wounds I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes you just need someone outside of your normal circles to tell you that you are beautiful in order to really hear it. I am glad that I had the opportunity to both give and receive such healing sentiments and energies over the course of our few days together. Through all of this I felt that I was truly able to emerge from my own chrysalis, and take flight.
When the time came to strike camp and make our way back home I had that familiar sense of melancholy that I have come to know when leaving the presence of those with whom I had shared a heart-connection. But I also felt a renewed strength of purpose in which I felt secure: We each have the power to help each other shine, even though we may not know what that power is. We could do this for each other with a conversation, a kind word, a smile, or a kiss. We could do this by telling a joke or sharing a story. We can do this simply by being who we really are…. when we are brave enough to open our hearts and proclaim, “Behold how beautiful I am!” Not from a space of ego, or comparison… but one of full presence and love for all beings. Our Work is to look into the mirror to see our darkness and our light and know that both are beautiful. And sometimes we need to be the mirrors for each other. For me, Coph Nia embodied this sentiment perfectly.