If you consider yourself a witch, if you’re curious about witches, or even if you’re trying to shake the stereotype of a witch that modern-day society peddles, the Midwest Witches Conference might be for you.
In its second year, the Conference is coming Oct. 19, and more than half of its 120 spots are already filled. The Conference will also offer 12 presenters, twice as many as last year. Attendees will once again experience rotating small group discussions with presenters, with no more than 10 people at a time in each gathering.
New this year: a focus on the “cauldron,” which organizers say is among the most misunderstood images of witchcraft and also one of the most powerful tools of self-empowerment.
“If you’re going to recognize and reclaim your personal power, the cauldron is the way to do it,” says Jennifer Bishop, one of the three key organizers. “It represents the uterus for birthing. With its three legs, it represents the trinity in many forms.”
Bishop references the spiritual trinity, the holistic trinity of mind/body/spirit, and the Gaia-inspired trinity of “mother, maiden and crone.” “The cauldron is all about creating vibrations to empower yourself,” she says.
The merging of various spiritual paths is something Bishop and the other key organizers, Deb Kuehne and Lauri Fox, have lived personally. All three come from decades of sensing something “different” about themselves and their draw to nature, and of seeking within the last five years to break free from traditional influences that somehow diminished or marginalized their sense of being “different.”
Bishop tried to label her unique feelings in a holistic way, trying to take “shaman classes.” She found that witchcraft best described and captured her sense of female empowerment.
“I spent a lot of time in a conservative lifestyle, with nobody to talk to and no one to reach out to,” Bishop recalls. “It’s better in general now, because of social media, but there is still nothing quite like having an in-person interaction with someone.”
Kuehne, who describes herself as a “solitary eclectic” witch, explored Native American spiritual beliefs to fulfill her unique spiritual longing. Like Bishop, Kuehne found only witchcraft captured her beliefs. “It feels so good to find the right words for who I am and what I am.”
Fox comes from a Christian background rooted in what she describes as she “instilling fear.”
“I’m still coming along on the path of overcoming that,” she says. “I think I’m over the fear, and then it pops up again.
“Witchcraft doesn’t really have that. It’s about your own path. You have to be responsible for what you do.”
Last year, the Witches Conference sold out its 70 available seats in less than five weeks. This year, with 120 seats available, half are already sold. Deb says this year’s event will also feature a “midday ritual of self-empowerment” that will remain “secret” except to registered festival-goers.
Speakers this year include:
• Amy Bishop, an artist, SoulCollage facilitator and Reiki Master/Instructor who will present on the connection between spell-casting and creating art.
• Gayla Drake, a musician and sound healer certified in Sound Healing, Light Language, and Reiki, who also performs with the Family Folk Machine and the One Hundred And Change. She will guide a drumming circle without drums.
• Chris Ericsson, who will provide an introduction to Hoodoo Candle Magick
• Lydia Gittings, who owns Burlington’s The Broom Closet. She will speak on “how to keep our vibration high” while working and living in “the mundane world.”
• Andrea Gorsh, owner of Mt. Vernon’s Kae Apothecary, who will talk about integrating the metaphysical and magical into your everyday world
• Richard L. Johnson, a lecturer/teacher at Burlington’s Sacred Earth Society and a lay minister in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He will speak on the history, meaning and use of runes.
• Argos Marinoctis, owner of Mysterious Magick and a Des Moines-based witch who will talk about the pre-Wicca roots of witchcraft
• James Neubauer, a tarot card reader who will talk about the male identity in witchcraft.
• Deborah Maynard, a Unitarian Universalist minister who has also been head of the Cedar Rapids-based Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans for 18 years. She will speak about sex, sexuality, and spirituality.
• Matthew Ribakow of Wilmington, N.C., speaking about astrological charts.
• Crystal Waltz, founder of the Cedar Valley Witch Society, who will talk about meditation and pathworking.
• Dawn Ziemer, a witchcraft instructor from Delhi, Iowa, who will discuss self-empowerment through witchcraft.
For those interested in exploring witchcraft in smaller doses or before the conference, consider the monthly Witches’ Cauldron Gathering at Illuminations Center for Enlightenment, Cedar Rapids, on Aug. 27 or Sept. 24, featuring conversations and a meditation.