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Knowledge, Wisdom, and Gnosis: The Between the Worlds/Sacred Space Conference

Last week’s entry for the Pagan Experience was on the topic of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Gnosis. I was very busy preparing for a variety of things last week – among them getting ready to be on Spring Break as well as prepping for my classes at Between the Worlds. It seemed to be a good idea to hold off on writing this entry until after Between the Worlds, not only in the interest of the very mundane and practical issue of time, but because I knew I would have plenty of inspiration to write about all three after the conference.

The Between the Worlds conference took place this year March 5 – 8 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Maryland. The conference was really two conferences in one, as the space was shared with Sacred Space, a yearly conference (and one of my favorites) that usually happens this time every year. Between the Worlds happens every few years, and the scheduling is based on astrological events. This time, the conference was scheduled at the point of seven different planetary squares, a time for great change and possible destruction of old ways to clear the path for new ways to emerge.


My own experience this year with knowledge included increasing my own on a practical level to ensure the workshops I was giving would be well-prepared, well-researched, and well-presented. I am always on the look out for new methods and discoveries, and I am always happy to share these with others for them to decide how best to use the information shared. This year I presented two workshops: one on Celtic Seership and one on Cartomancy, both topics very broad, wide-ranging, yet close to my heart!
I love to receive all kinds of feedback and learned that the Celtic Seership workshop might best be divided into two workshops (thank you Aalyvynne – you were right on with this), the first part on the history of the Celts and their Seership methods, and the second part on practical applications. As anyone who has attempted any study in Celtic lore knows, this subject is practically bottomless and it can be overwhelming to study and present. Knowing and understanding the history of the Celts is very important if you care to understand their methods, and then showing the ways in which their methods can be adapted to modern practice is worthy of its own presentation. I am so glad to have this week off to do more research and pondering!

My second workshop took place on Sunday, the morning after the big Gala, and I was a little bleary eyed heading into this one, but fortunately was able to present in a clear-headed manner after some assist with the AV tech from Jim Dickinson! I learned that no late check out at the hotel makes for a somewhat panicked me, but fortunately, I overcame that as well. I especially loved the sharing that took place after my talk and look forward to further exploration into other systems of Cartomancy!

I gained a lot of insight and wisdom from both plenary panels at the conference. The first plenary panel was called “Alliances with the Spirit World,” and featured Aeptha of Light Haven, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Diana Paxson, author of Taking Up the Runes and many other titles; Kirk Thomas of ADF; authoress Dorothy Morrison, and Michael Smith, of our own ASW; and Ivo Dominguez, Jr as moderator.  All spoke about their relationships with spirit, and the challenge of living and being in a world that does not acknowledge spirit. Everyone present at that table had something of vital importance to say, but for me, two people in particular seemed to be speaking directly to me.

I was touched by Diana Paxson, who spoke of growing up with a mother who made her feel as though she was incapable of being spiritual and of being something of a lead head. I related to this as I felt as though my own mother often went out of her way to remind me I was not especially gifted and that I was pretty much the same as everyone else, a refrain that has been difficult to erase, even in adulthood and after thousands of dollars of therapy.  She has had to learn not only how to access spirit, but also how to get past her own perception of her limitations, something I can relate to very much.

Aeptha of Light Haven spoke of a difficult upbringing in which she was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and experienced not only a wholesale negation of who she was, but also had to undergo ECT as a consequence of her diagnosis. I have watched secondhand at the way in which our medical field often fails so spectacularly at mental health, and I want to weep hearing stories like this. That a person can experience this personally and still triumph in the way that Aeptha has is heartening and inspiring.

The second panel, held Saturday morning, was “Nurturing Spiritual Communities,” and featured on this panel were Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki, T. Thorn Coyle, Ivo Dominguez, Jr, Katrina Messenger, Byron Ballard, and Christopher Penczak. Everyone here spoke of community as a living ecosystem, with much to nourish to help it grow, and also talked a great deal about “the muck.” As T. Thorn Coyle remarked, “Community means we have mutually entangled obligations to each other.” In the muck, we may find these obligations – in the difficult places, the truth telling, the hard work of creating and sustaining community – is where we find the most growth. Byron Ballard spoke of how in her home town, two very disparate communities – one on the “white” side of town, the other on the “black” side of town – joined together for common cause and found that although there are differences, that coming together made everyone stronger. For me, this panel was a call to action to build bridges and find connections.

The dictionary defines Gnosis, “Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge (in the nominative case γνῶσις f.). In Christian, Islamic, or Jewish mysticism, mystery religions and Gnosticism gnosis generally signifies a spiritual knowledge or "religion of knowledge", in the sense of mystical enlightenment or "insight". Gnosis perhaps is the most elusive of all kinds of knowing. How do we recognize gnosis when it arrives? How do we incorporate it into our lives? Is gnosis the moment of connection with spirit and the divine itself, or is it a moment in which knowledge and wisdom break open into something greater?

Gnosis was certainly present in the main ritual at BTW, not only in the form of finding gnosis itself, but in the form of The Mother of Gnosis, who was beautifully channeled (if that is the appropriate word – perhaps drawn down would be a better term) by Aeptha, who reminded us not to fear our own gnosis as all things begin from there. Fear is indeed the greatest divider we have – not only from one another, but from the highest we can achieve within ourselves and within our communities. Fear is a barrier to gnosis.

I was honored to take part in the ritual as representing one of the four corners of the Powers of the Sphinx, perhaps better known as “To Know, To Dare, To Will, and To Remain Silent.” I called in the power to Dare and as part of that acknowledge that to be courageous is to move forward even as we feel fear. Feeling fear does not mean we must remain helpless – feel fear and moving forward anyway allows us to be courageous and if we make the leap of faith we will grow, transform, evolve.

During the ritual, we were encouraged to look at one another and to truly see one another. As we danced and chanted “Look at each other, see the Sun, Moon, and Stars,” I did indeed feel barriers of all kinds falling away. I felt love, respect, honor, and pride in my community, and in all the communities being brought together and created over the weekend. It was energizing and revelatory.

And then the revels……
On Saturday night, the Gala took place, and what a wonderful event it was. Doug Stafford, juggler and fire spinner extraordinaire, kicked off the evening with a wonderful performance.  Immediately following Doug came the band Tuatha Dea, and if you are not familiar with them, I recommend listening to them post haste! They provided amazing Irish folk rock that we danced, drummed, clapped, and stomped to. DO give them a listen if you love and miss the days of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention.  Being able to celebrate with friends near and far at an event like this was also energizing and just plain fun. And a reminder that in the midst of the hard work that Knowledge, Wisdom, and Gnosis – and community building – require – we also need merriment, music, laughter, and art.
Between the Worlds returns again in 2020. In the meantime, I will cherish the memories, lessons, and friends found this year until we all meet again.



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