We have just returned from Ascendio, a 4-day symposium/convention of all things Harry Potter, which took place in Orlando, Florida. This is the 3rd Potter convention we have been to, we were also at Portus and Infinitus. I think Ascendio has affected me the most profoundly, and is definitely my favorite so far. There is so much to share, so I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning. I will try to do this from memory, but I may forget a few things.
We arrived in Orlando around noon on Wednesday, a day before the convention, so that we could make use of our season passes at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. We checked into a cheaper hotel for this night, and then Thursday checked into the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (the hotel hosting the conference) until Sunday morning. As soon as we checked into this first hotel, we went across the street for a quick bite to eat, and headed straight to the park. This was also our 3rd visit to Islands of Adventure, the park that contains the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am vaguely aware there are other sections of Universal Orlando (as I must walk through them), but I have no interest in them whatsoever. For us, it’s all about the Wizarding World, and that’s where we remain the whole time we’re there. It is a fully-immersive experience. Once you walk through that stone archway, everything is different. It seems as though you have crossed through a veil into another world. So much detail went into creating this ‘world’, that every time you go, you see something new. Music from the Potter films is playing through the speakers everywhere, and visiting the shops, rides and The Three Broomsticks pub is a full-on total sensory and magical experience. It truly does feel like ‘home’ to us. There is so much I could say, but words are not adequate. It is something you must experience for yourself.
Thursday morning we checked in at the Portofino Bay Hotel, which hosted the convention. This is definitely the most luxurious hotel we’ve ever stayed in. The staff were all very friendly, and we were treated like royalty. Most of them knew we were there for Harry Potter, and they were fans too, so there was a feeling of kinship. Our room was ready hours before check-in time, so we were able to go directly to the room with our bags. After we got settled, we browsed the hotel and it’s two luxurious pools. There were vendor rooms with lots of very creative Potter merchandise made by Potter fans. Some of our friends are in Wizard Rock bands (Wizard Rock, or Wrock, is a sub-genre of music based on the Potter books), and they were performing on Thursday. It was great to see them all again. Some are still on tour now. Thursday evening we went back to the park for a very special event, Night of A Thousand Wizards. From 10pm til 1am, those of us attending Ascendio had private use of the Wizarding World. Just for us. Only 1,000 tickets had been sold for this event, it was catered for us and everything. Lots of great food, and all the free Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice you could drink. It was great to be able to do the castle ride, “Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey” with practically zero wait time, over and over again. We were allowed to go in costume as well. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve been through the castle, the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, and Flight of the Hippogryff. But it never gets old. Never, because of what it all means to us. One thing that made this night so special was the fact that we were sharing it with other super-fans like us. The Potter community has become a family to us. We have made many good friends through Harry Potter, and we stay in contact even when we’re apart. The Night of A Thousand Wizards event is not likely to happen again for a long time, if ever.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many, to have the Wizarding World all to yourself and your friends. Twice for us. The organizers of Ascendio have said that this will be their last convention. But yet, there are still other, smaller conventions being planned this very moment. In May of 2013, Misti-Con will take place at a smaller hotel in New Hampshire. We are already making plans to be there, along with several of our friends.
Friday morning was the Welcoming Feast, lots of great food and an opportunity to sit with old friends, and make new ones. Many people came to the feast in costume. Chris Rankin and Afshad Azad (Percy Weasley and Padma Patil from the Potter films) were there as well. They were very approachable, friendly and walked alongside everyone just like they were part of the group, and they were. They even participated in some of the events. They didn’t distance themselves from us just because they are famous. And we could tell they were having just as much fun as we were. After the feast, we went to a presentation called “How to Self-Publish to Kindle (And Market Yourself)”. There were a few authors present who had written books about the Potter fandom, and they shared with us how they got these books published. They shared many tips with us about how to self-publish our own books. One of the speakers, Connie Neal, is a Christian author who was the first one to defend the Potter books. A few years ago I read her book, “The Gospel According to Harry Potter”. Although I am not a Christian myself, I was curious to learn what the positive Christian perspective of the books might be. I spoke with her briefly, she was very kind and non-judgmental, even after I told her I am a Witch. We exchanged business cards, and on her website is lots of information for aspiring writers. You may visit her website HERE. I personally never saw the Potter books as Christian allegory, but there is some Christian symbolism to be found there. Also on Friday, we went to the Craft Fair room, where there were several tables of even more hand-made Potter merchandise. I purchased a silk-screened pillowcase with one of the most beautiful images of Harry & Hedwig that I have ever seen. So many creative and talented people here. Stunning artwork, professional quality wands, Potter-themed clothing and accessories. I wanted all of it. Later, we attended a discussion with Chris Rankin and Afshad Azad, where they discussed their experiences working on the Potter films. Also on Friday, was The Untold Tale of Beedle The Bard, a musical version of “the tale of the three brothers” from the Deathly Hallows book. All original music, performed by amazingly talented singers, with a live orchestra accompanying them. A few of our friends were in it, and it was truly amazing. Hopefully they can get it onto a CD soon.
There were so many interesting lectures to choose from, it was hard to decide which ones to go to, while allowing time for the park, socializing, etc. I never made it to “Body Modification in the Wizarding World”, and “Potter and Mythology”. A few of our friends were doing presentations as well, and we apologize that couldn’t make it to all of them.
At some point Thursday or Friday, (I can’t remember which), I met an author by the name of Logospilgrim. Logospilgrim has written a fascinating book about Professor Severus Snape, called The Severus Snape Paradigm. In this book, she writes about how Snape has influenced her spiritual journey and practice. I was very inspired, both by the book, and by Logospilgrim herself. You can purchase a copy of it from her website HERE.
On Saturday I was scheduled to give my presentation, “Wicca & Harry Potter” at 12:30pm. We had peeked into the room earlier, and saw that it was a HUGE room, with a MASSIVE screen for Powerpoint. The screen was literally almost half the size of a movie screen. I wasn’t originally planning on doing a Powerpoint, but I spent most of early Saturday morning putting one together, and I must say, it was quite good. When I arrived to the conference room at 12:30, I was informed that they had double-booked this room for the same time. This snafu was quickly resolved, however, and I was allowed to still use the room at the scheduled time. There were about 25 people present for my discussion about the magickal/metaphysical concepts that can be found in the Potter books. I only had an hour to present everything, and I didn’t have a watch on me to keep track of the time. There was an assistant in the back of the room who gave me signals when it was time to start wrapping up. Even though I didn’t get to share everything I had prepared, I did share most of it, and have decided to put all of this presentation into book form.
Saturday evening was a fashion show, where several attendees showed off the outstanding Potter-themed costumes they had made themselves. In fact, most of the people at Ascendio made their own costumes, with intricate details and total film accuracy. Most people don’t usually show up at the Potter cons wearing cheap, mass-produced, store-bought costumes. They are mostly hand-made, with many hours of time, blood, sweat and tears invested in them.
Saturday evening was To The Manor Ball, a big costumed Potter party in the ballroom, with a DJ, Potter-themed specialty drinks, lots of dancing, laughing, photos, and socializing with friends. Some people saved their best costumes for this event. We didn’t have fancy costumes for the ball, but I wore my basic Gryffindor robe, sweater and tie, although this is considered regular everyday-wear. It was quite warm, and I was sweating a lot, but I am quite attached to my Gryffindor robe, as it also doubles as a ritual robe for me. As much as I appreciate the Orlando conferences being near the park, I look forward to Potter gatherings that take place in locations that are less tropical, and during a time of year that is more compatible with heavy robes and wool sweaters. My partner Matthew wore his Durmstrang jersey. He was the only person wearing one, and was asked to pose for photos a few times. Matt had an awesome photo taken of him casting a Patronus, a Phoenix. There were so many wonderful costumes at the ball, and so many friends there. It is a treasured memory, sharing these experiences with our friends.
Sunday morning was the Leaving Feast, and it was bittersweet. It was a time to exchange hugs, phone numbers, business cards and tears with old friends and new. Some of them we may not see again for a long time. I was fighting back tears through most of the feast, knowing that this magical time was coming to an end, and that it may be the last time, for a long time, that I will see some of these folks again. I hope fervently that some of them can make it to Misti-Con next year in New Hampshire.
We stayed an extra day in Orlando, to visit the park one last time, but somehow it wasn’t the same. The weather was hotter than usual, there was a torrential downpour that seemed to last forever, and the park was packed with muggles who had no idea of the real magic that had been taking place over the last 3 days.
Ascendio is an experience that I will never, ever forget. We’ve met so many amazing people, and have been inspired in so many ways. During the last 10 years my life has been deeply and profoundly affected by Harry Potter, in ways that I don’t expect people to understand. For this reason, I keep alot of things to myself…for now.
It’s real for us. After all this time. Always.