Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saturday at Pantheacon, 2013: Confessions of a Sweaty Ghost

Not a pre-requisite, but you will probably benefit from perusing THURSDAY and FRIDAYS posts.

Lying in bed at 1am on Saturday morning, I was pleased that I had attended 4 out of the 7 items that I had circled in the Pcon program. And no, having a hot blonde displaying her g-string to me on the roof of the hotel was not one of the items.

As always though, I was at the fireplace in the lobby at 6am.

I really enjoy the morning fireplace time at Pcon. I get about 2 hours just to myself. Well, there are the hotel employees moving here and there, the mundanes in power suits catching early flights, and the automatic doors that apparently are responding to requests from ghosts and faeries as they open and close at random times for reasons known only to themselves.

Mostly though I enjoy 'feeling' the energy of the 1,000 energy workers that are here. Almost all of them are on 'idle' at this gawwwwdawful time of the dawn, but I can also lower my shields then and tune into the hum and just quietly embrace the awesome witchiness that is in residence just above me.

I do this without my glasses on of course, which means my far range is limited, which means I don't see people clearly until they are within about 10 feet of me. But what I found on Saturday morning was that I could recognize  people I know by their stagger from the night before.

And when they came closer I could see that some of them had on the same clothes from last night too.
This is some people's view of Pantheacon.

The admiral was sensibly sleeping in, so at 8am I headed for Cafe Ho-Hum. Maybe there would be somebody there that I know. The hostess continued the yearly theme of 'indecision' (this is the nice way of saying "incompetence") by seating me here, and then there, and then just kind of hitting hyperspace and seating me at the corner of the gigantic gray granite slab in the middle of the diner, in front of the buffet.

The corner. Even with 12 seats available and a party of one I will still take the "lefty" chair.

So, I wait. And wait. While people come and go, servers pass by me constantly, and calendar pages fly off the wall. Nothing. This morning I am a ghost, apparently. Oh well. Wouldn't be the first time.

I rise, grab a plate, and do the buffet line, lamenting as always that the bacon is less than rigid and hence undercooked. Bacon should be crispy. Anything less is just flat pork.

I seat myself and grab my bottle of juice from my escape bag. At least I'll have something to drink. 8:30am now, a half hour with no one saying even "boo" to the ghost. I have a 9am class I want to attend, but its nearby, and by now I am getting into the sport of hiding-in-plain-sight-guerilla-breakfasting.

Servers are passing on all sides of the big table, all headed places, and none of them apparently have the big table in their territory. The lack of a bill and no juice or coffee does not seem to register with these automamorons. One of your guests is drinking from a sports bottle. Hello? Anyone?

Did I raise my hand, toss out a greeting, or start catapulting forks around the place? Naaah, I was having way more fun seeing how long I could stretch this scenario out. Ah, but the institutionalized incompetence here is truly awesome. The indifference of the staff cannot be charted accurately: They simply peg every scale of ineptitude. I sat at my prominent spot for almost an hour, had a full breakfast, even went for seconds, played a whole game of Scrabble on my phone, and nobody as much as coughed in my direction.

Image from Holly's Facebook page:
at 8:55am I gathered my gear, put some cash under the plate and walked out. I love Cafe Ho-Hum - I haven't had such an intriguing meal in a long time.

Yoga Time!

9am was 'intermediate' yoga with Holly Allender Kraig, which I thought I was qualified for. Turns out, not so much.

Oh I could do the asanas - I just couldn't do them at her speed. (Good thing I have a huge crush on her.) Intermediate Yoga means that your resting pose is Downward Dog. Think about that. This is what you keep coming back to in order to RELAX.

I've taken lots of classes over the years, but never long term. Like my magickal practice, I like learning new things, trying on different hats (as it were), but I don't follow a Path, a Tradition, or a Style of exercise. I practice yoga solitary. 

And what I learned from Holly is that I apparently prefer to do Yoga in slow motion. Every bend, every stretch, every movement takes breath after breath after breath for me. I routinely spend 10 minutes in Butterfly and have clocked myself at more than half-an-hour in Lotus. A video of me teaching yoga would have to be cranked up, Benny Hill fashion, in order to fit it on one tape. Glacial Yoga! Hey, hold on while I register that domain name.
Fan from this years Feri Tent Revival

With Holly's Reflexive Yoga though it was time to get sweaty! She ran us through all manner of complex and challenging sequences, all the while keeping up the positive feedback and relating tales of her own practice and study. She's a wonderful teacher and a great role model. But for me, Yoga is meditation much more than aerobics.

Feri Tent Revival - Practice

After that I had to head back to our room to change clothes because they were all sweaty. Next it was off the the Feri Tent Revival practice, which was located in the Feri Hospitality Suite. This has been reserved for us ahead of time, but we still had to pry a couple of Initiates out of the room before we went in. (Afterwards they rubber-banded immediately back in to this room. I guess this is why I never see my Feri friends at Pantheacon - there must be quite a gravity well here.)

At this point you may be saying to yourself: "Hey, 1,000 words in and you are only at 11am? Ye Gods Man - SNAP IT UP!" or alternately you may have caught my bit of hypocriticality and are now saying "Hey, Mr. I-follow-no-Trad! what are doing studying with a bunch of Feri folks? Aren't you a Solitary?

To which I will reply: 1) Go make yourself a sandwich and get comfy. You'll enjoy the rest of this recap, just like I did the rest of the day. And 2) I am a Solitary yes, but a gregarious one. I have LOTS of friends, and I am dedicated to Service. So when Sister Jenya pinged me 3 weeks ago that their Choir Director had been swept away and would I jump in and help out I did not hesitate. Sure, I replied. Sounds like fun. What could possibly go wrong?

Ah, triple air signs. Ya gotta love us. So I packed my conductors baton and drove off to San Francisco on a Sunday, two weeks before Pantheacon, to see if I could sort out the 10 person choir and their inability to stay in time.*

My baton looks like the one here. (From fineartamerica.com)
Yes, I own a conductor's baton. I also own a Giants Baseball jersey - but that doesn't mean I can throw a curveball. The baton was one of the first gifts given to me by Admiral Karen, and I've played around with it now and then. Putting on my tailcoat, turning up the 1812 Overture and doing my best Toscanini impersonation is great fun. But this was real, live people, performing in front of hundreds of other people. Ulp!!

The people in the choir are good singers, and they knew the lines of the songs, both of which are huge plusses. The problem was just keeping everyone on rhythmic track, so I was brought in, since I'm a drummer, and a sucker, and have whipped cream for brains.

I did what I could in two practices, but it was a just a patch job and I really wish I had had even two more rehearsals with these fine folks. My inner arranger was hearing all kinds of lovely harmonies and snappy endings for the songs, but we just had no time.

The final rehearsal in the Feri Suite went well. Jenya proposed a major change in one of the songs and we told her (nicely) to go pound sand. Her idea was a good one, but you don't mess with an arrangement 3 hours before the gig. Thank you, but Code Freeze!

A coupla more reasons why I enjoy eating at Cafe Ho-Hum.
Oh Katie, you are so much more than a '7'.
We left the Feri Hospitality Suite quickly after the run through, so all of Victor and Cora's followers could quickly reinhabit their fortress after being exiled for an hour, out in the cold, lonely void, having to spend time and actually interact with other heathens and pagans and energy workers. (shudder)


Karen and I had Lunch at the Santa Cruz Witches Hospitality Suite, (A/K/A Café Ho-Hum) and in yet another surprise twist we were given prompt, courteous service by our server. I regaled our table with my tale of being a ghost at breakfast and everyone nodded and wasn't surprised at all.

Nap up in our room, but I didn't sleep too well. Too nervous about the Feri Tent Revival. I am not one who gets stage fright or performance anxiety. But there were so many unknowns about this show:

  • I using an instrument I had never performed with before (a baton)
  • Guiding people that I did not know well at all (I still haven't gotten everyone's name down)
  • Through 13 different music cues, some of which were devilishly complex
  • On a stage that I would see for exactly one half-hour before the doors opened to the public
  • Sharing that stage with other people that I had just met
  • In a show that I had only the barebones knowledge of,
  • all in service to a Tradtion that I had zero experience (and to be honest, interest) in.
The tailcoat at a Samhain rite.
So I got up and took a shower. I was still nervous, but now there was no time for worry. Plus, I had a weapon to employ. When in doubt - get DRESSED.

A half-hour later I was sauntering through the Double Tree wearing dress shoes, italian tailored pants, a high collar gray silk shirt and my 1917 black swallowtail tuxedo coat. Plus pocket square, cumberbund, cuff links, and (get this) white spats.

So even if I wasn't sure that I knew what I was doing I LOOKED like I knew what I was doing. By the time I arrived outside of the upstairs ballroom at 3pm I had worked up a serious game face of not-so serious tranquil calm.

Feri Tent Revival - for reals!

All of us on crew were there, bins aplenty stacked nearby, decked out in evening wear and choir robes. And there we were stuck.  

  • The seminar in there ahead of us (1:30-3pm) had not let out yet, even though it was now past 3pm.
  • The ConOps Squad wouldn't let us move past the barrier to outside the room.
  • The clock was ticking, louder and louder.
  • Finally our room opens and people start to exit.
  • Now ConOps is mad at us for blocking the lanes, but they still won't let us into the area outside of the room.
  • People are leaving Oak like they are swimming in maple syrup. So sloooowly.
  • The minutes are ticking away.
  • Security will not let us in until the very last person has exited the room.
  • And this ballroom is like one of the those clown cars: the people will not stop coming out of this room!
  • And they are moving so slowly.....!
Grim faces as we frantically set up for the Tent Revival.
Finally, the coast is clear and Con Ops is satisfied that there will zero chance of cross contamination between our crew and the guests who came for Vivianne Crowleys talk. We are allowed to enter our ballroom, at 3:10pm.

Inside it is chaos as formally dressed people become Teamsters and begin the task of moving huge tables, decorating 8 altars, and getting our principals wired up with microphones. We asked for 8 mics - we got 2. But that wasn't the Big Deal. Oh no.

The Big Deal was the sudden fact that we were told that we could not adjust the lighting in our room. We had several lighting cues scheduled, lines had been written and memorized around them, people were appointed for the job, and now we were told that we couldn't dim or dowse the lights because (get this) it would affect ALL of the ballrooms on the floor.

View from the back of the stage. At this point my music stand is right
on top of the choir when they stand up. Dig Roses' Tinkerbell robe!
Think about that. I've been coming to Pcon for 9 years now, and I've seen all manner of lighting effects in the ballrooms, from slow dimming to sudden leaps into darkness. I've also traveled from one ballroom to another and seen completely different lighting schemes from room to room. Finally, the Feri Tent Revival has been doing these lighting cues for 5 years now, in these very rooms, with no trouble at all.

The notion that we couldn't adjust the lights in our ballroom because it would affect the other 3 is ludicrous. I mean, why does each room have its own controls then?

Me, I had other problems. 
The Hymnal given out to the parishoners

The 'stage' that we were given was 4 feet deep. The choir could sit up there (just don't lean back!), and even stand when they would need to but there was no room for me. If I was up there, I would be standing less than a foot away from the singer directly in front of me. Every wave of my baton could result in blinding someone.

Also, my music stand was missing. I had loaned it to Jenya so she could use it at her Shadow House Presentation the night before, and she had spaced on bringing it back. So someone had to be dispatched to race all the way back to a room to get it.


When it arrived I positioned it as best I could. My heels would be over the leading edge of the stage. This was gonna be super-tricky. Finally, with less than a minute to go, it was decided to move my music stand (and me) down off of the stage and onto the floor.

Dead center stage. In the middle of the preachers and quarter callers and homily givers and such. Oh dear gods.

No time to freak out. I got my music right side up, found a place for my tambourine, grabbed my baton, the doors opened, and I counted in the first number "Gimme That Old Time Religion". And we're off!

Again with the finger! Action shot from the Revival.
(Photo courtesy Annika Mongan)
And the rest of the 90 minutes was all a blur. I kept them on the same tempo (that's what the baton in the left hand does) and reminded them to enunciate the wordy lines, prompted the choir for each verse, held out and cut off the long notes, and jabbed 'em a bit when they enthusiasm started to flag. (That's all with the right hand.) Being a conductor is hard work!

I had my back to the crowd too, so I had no idea if my efforts were succeeding. The script that I had sculpted for myself was totally bare-bones: Just the first and last paragraphs of each speech and then all the music cues in huge type. And of course the preachers had changed their sermons and homilies considerably since the last time a full script had been sent out. So I was in the dark a lot of the time (even if the room was not!).
Devocations from the end of the revival.
This is where I am trying to be a ghost.

But I think I pulled it off okay. I got all the songs started in the right places, cued all the soloists, and ended all the final notes crisply. In addition I got to be a bit of a Harpo on stage, fanning the preachers after a big applause line, rubbing Matthew's shoulders like a Corner in a prize fight after his fiery quarter invocation and 'illustrating' Jenya's line of "Remember when we had tails?" by fluffing my tailcoat. That got a good laugh.

Mostly though I tried to stay out of the way, visually and energetically (Be a ghost, you big HAM!). Because the big secret here was that I was in the middle of a Big Feri ritual (center stage!), and I have NO IDEA what this tradition does. I don't know their movements, their words, their gang signs, their stories, the responses to their calls. Lost without a paddle.

from casinom8trix.com
So I spent an awful lot of time staring blankly at these nice people with a frozen smile on my face as they went about their business. But somehow we got through it and the Peoples seemed to like it. So Halle-fucking-ujah!

When we got the last parishoner out the door, and I finally, finally cut off the last note of "I'll Fly Away" I was totally exhausted. A big group hug and then I gathered my music stand and tambourine and exited. Outside I accepted the congratulations of my friends and then Admiral Karen helped me stagger back to my room. Where I found I had to change my clothes AGAIN, as they were all sweated through.

It gives you wings....

Jason, as always, has the good idea: "Wings at the Casino". A bunch of us walk across the parking lot - marveling at the novelty of breathing actual AIR - and then run across the street to the M8trix casino (Shh - don't call it a card room). The nearest entrance to the Doubletree is the Zone 8 Sports Bar, which, compared to Cafe Ho-Hum has:

  • 8 times the menu
  • better food
  • cheaper prices
  • good service from actual Hu-mans.
  • and 32,000 HD Movie Screen TVs hurtling sports in your face.
from casinom8trix.com
I hadn't realized how hungry I was, but I polished off a very good Reuben sandwich and fries with no problem. The Wings contingent was just getting started however, so we left Ari and Jason and Stephanie to it. Karen and I raced back across the busy street and straight into Papa Ghede's Bone Yard Boogie.

Papa Ghede's Bone Yard Boogie

This was billed as a New Orleans ritual, and it had a lot of the trappings: beautiful full dresses, wild hats, a saucy delivery, and a ROCKIN' drummer (Albert Robles), playing nothing but a cajon box! And if they had as tense a set up as the Tent Revival did, they sure weren't showing it.

The entire ritual was done in rhyme and in various second line rhythms. And for all that it was surprisingly DEEP. Gwen Templeton, fresh off of last night's triumph at the Pombagira, led us to open the gates of the dead, and she meant it, and so we meant it, and serious juju was raised. 

We all wrote out messages to be sent over to the Other Side and also our wishes for ourselves for the new Year. Matt and Jenya were there, having recovered somewhat from the intense energy exchange of the Tent Revival.

This is a Box Cajon from the back. You sit on
it and get different sounds by slapping the front.
And yes, it is as much fun to play as it seems.
But only somewhat. When the Priest and Priestess got to the point where they described the Goddess quietly conveying her dead God across the veil, "Carry him over to the other side" is how they put it - we ALL lost it. Tears tears tears tears tears.......the whole crazy day just kind of boiled over and the four of us (and many others in the swirling circle) all had a good, refreshing cry.

We blubbered our thanks to the principals and took off for the next thing on the program. Pantheacon is completely nutty that way: You have all of these wild, intense, SEPARATE experiences in one day - as many as 8 if you show up to everything. Its insane sauce.

(which is why it looks like its going to take 4,000 words to describe this ONE day to you all. Sorry.)

In the presence of the Golden God

9pm found us at Jason Mankey's Magick and the Occult America 1820-1952. This was a late addition to the schedule - so late in fact that it wasn't in the big, printed program. So part of my reason for missing Pandamonaeon (AGAIN!) was to support my friend, who had been working hard for two weeks now to get this presentation in some sort of shape in time.

Plus, a scholarly slideshow at 9pm on Saturday night? With Pandamonaeon playing up in the ballrooms? Would anybody show up for this thing? Assuming they even heard of it?

Yep. He filled the double-sized room. Such is the Power of the golden curls. And as for the Scholarliness at party-time - Jason just jettisoned some of the modules of his talk, added in some fun slides and then buzzed through the whole program with looney tunes intensity, conveying his love of the subject through sheer determined ENTHUSIASM.

Love this man. (Photo by Admiral Karen - at the Giants parade!)
Sitting in a dark room watching slides of people long dead go by did make me feel a bit like a ghost again, but I was never bored. In a full weekend of impressive onstage shows, Jason Mankey's performance that night tops my list as the best of the Convention. Bravo, sir. You really are a Golden God (sometimes).

Wigglin' & Whappin'

11pm! Sleep? A-hahaha! NO! Not when my friend Didi is hosting a bellydance show. So I dropped off my sensible Capricorn at the room, reloaded my drink bottle, and was off back downstairs for moremoremore.

The bellydancers were from all styles and backgrounds (and genders!), but all were presenting dances dedicated to "The Many Faces of the Goddess". It was a blast to see traditional Egyptian followed by Tribal Fusion followed by wiggly striptease followed by a man so slinky and gorgeous that I began to question some of my own beliefs about myself.

I was sitting on the center aisle, which gave me a good view down the middle to the dancers. This also had a side benefit: When Sarah Astarte decided to leave the stage and come wiggling down that aisle she stopped halfway and spontaneously gave me a kiss on my cheek, which got a big cheer from the full room.

My Rock Star moment of the day. Definitely not a ghost.
Agreed. Now imagine her bellydancing.
See what I'm saying?

After the show - and anything with coin belts AND twirling pasties is aces in my book - it was off to the midnight drum jam. When I arrived the party was already in FULL Swing. I counted 6 drummers on stage, about 75 lining the walls, and around 50 dancers collectively losing their civilization in the middle.

(Impressive? Yes. But musically nothing that weekend tops the guy playing the Cajon Box at the Bone Yard Boogie ritual.) I unpacked my doumbek with the shoulder strap and got a nod from Bear to hop onstage with the leaders (so nice to be a respected member of the Fraternity of the Drum). How long I was up there I really can't say. For someone whose job is to keep the tempo I tend to lose all track of linear time when I am in these situations.

I was amusing myself by playing bellydance rhythms while simultaneously trying out the basic moves I had picked up in lots of classes with Didi. Do I want to see video of me doing that? Yes. Do I want YOU to see it? No.

At some point in the night I was handed a note from my body which said: "Pack it in, Junior. It's bedtime." So I gathered up my shakers and drum and staggered back to the room, drenched in sweat one final time.

And so ended my Saturday at Pantheacon, 2013. It was like spending 20 hours on 4 different roller coasters, simultaneously. Wheeeeeeezzzzzzzzzz..........

Don't stop now! Let's see how SUNDAY played out......

Angus McMahan

*Yes, SUPERBOWL SUNDAY. I missed half of the game because of the Tent Revival practice - luckily I missed the first half, when the 49ers were playing with Pop Warner rules. 


  1. I love reading these things. I almost think Pcon should print them in their big booklet every year so people get a real taste of what the weekend is all about.

    One day, I too will see Pandemonium . . . . .

    1. Were there any pics of you at this seminar? It was so dark in there. I had to sub in something older.

  2. Ahem. Dude, I *totally can keep time. Also, thanks for being awesome. Hope we didn't totally scare you away, and you'll come back next year

    1. The tempo problems were minor, and not you, Rose. (And I'm not the best timekeeper either.) I think this will be my debut farewell with the dust bunnies, however.

    2. BOOOOO!! But ok. Thank you for being there xo

  3. That line, "When in doubt-- get DRESSED." I love it, and it makes SO MUCH SENSE.

    Dressing in fancies is a kind of ritual, and knowing you look damn good gives a little boost of confidence when needed, or so I've found.

    Preparing to spend a day talking to strangers? Get dressed. Going to a party hoping to impress an ex? Get dressed. My Pantheacon fashion is as much for boosting my own mood as it is for drawing attention! Haha :D