I’m back from PantheaCon, no thanks to those bastards at Delta airlines. PantheaCon is a gathering of approximately 3000 Pagans from across the country and hosts educational sessions and Pagan-friendly concerts over the course of 4 days. The con was great and the conversations were even better. This type of gathering is not only a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow through formal workshops, but it helps you take the pulse of the greater Pagan community. You find out what the hot topics are and get a sense of the direction our communities are headed. These are just a few of my observations from the con.
If you’ve gone to an outdoor festival, PantheaCon is nothing like that. Very different vibe. The pace is almost frantic, very high energy and there isn’t really any down time. You weep as you look at your schedule of events, choosing between seven or more workshops happening simultaneously. The workshops start at 9am and the last ones end at midnight or later. I can’t tell you how many times I was torn between workshops and concerts. In some cases I went between them, catching a few minutes here and there.
Even more exciting was meeting people I have known only online. To see them, have a real life conversation, and hug them was worth the entire experience. Star Foster and I roomed together and she is beautiful on the inside and the outside. I liked her before, now I love her. Some of you found out that I’m really not an asshole. (“You know, you’re actually rather nice,” was my favorite comment.) I chatted with bigwigs in the Troth, ADF, and COG. I got their perspectives on how their organization is doing, how its membership is changing, and what they are planning for the next few years. Two words came up over and over – infrastructure and families.
I got to have several ‘fangirl’ comments and I’m not the only one. Many of us were meeting people we’ve read about for years and look up to. Selena Fox hugged me. I had a conversation with Margot Adler (No shit, I’m serious) And…my most squeeeee-worthy moment: I heard Charles Stein read his translations and arrangement of the Chaldean Oracles. And I got to talk with him before the workshop, too. I think I freaked him out because I was overly excited to meet him. He kept his eye on me during the hour long presentation. Hey, to a Hellenic Recon…Stein is a freaking rock star and if we both weren’t married/spoken for and if I wasn’t fixed and if I liked children I would so have his babies. Those are the kind of moments you have at Pantheacon.
Respecting our Youngers
Pagans, generally, have great respect for our elders. We respect their experience and honor the contributions and sacrifices they have made on behalf of our religions. This contrasts with much of mainstream society in the USA. However – we are treating our younger generation like shit. That’s a blunt statement and it’s none too pretty, but that was driven home during the con.
I watched Pagans under the age of 30 told, in not so many words, to sit down and shut up. The attitude was that they couldn’t possibly have anything of value to offer, after all, they probably had only read a book or two and didn’t have the 20, 30 or even 40 years of experience that many of our elders have. Just watching body language, when younger folks approached or would try to enter into conversation, some Elders physically turned a shoulder to them to block them out, a dismissive and defensive gesture. This causes our younger generation to feel alienated. Some of them are choosing to no longer be active in the greater community because their attempts at contributing have been rebuffed repeatedly. One exchange I overheard encapsulates this. A younger Pagan offer to help put a booklet of songs into a PDF format so that people could download it onto their eBook reader as a supplement to printing it out on paper. The Elder ridiculed the idea commenting that it was a stupid idea and he don’t know why anyone would want to own an eReader. After all, he barely uses email and hates computers. The younger people in the group exchanged a look, went silent, and then left.
Not only taking into account the lack of basic respect from one human to another, this is disturbing behavior for our community. Our Elders are overworked. They are burning out from doing it all as they have been doing for the bast several decades. Yet some can’t seem to give up control and allow a younger generation to assist them. They are not using their wisdom to create a space for a new generation of Pagan leaders to grow and flourish. This is a shame as many of these younger Pagans I spoke with are trustworthy, responsible seeming adults who are professionally successful and have knowledge and skills that our community needs. They are lawyers, community organizers, financial professionals, work in media or PR, and in psychology. They have life experiences and perspectives that we would do well to listen to. They may have lived in countries where polytheism is the norm. Some of them have grown up as Pagans and don’t have the baggage and ‘translation’ issues that us converts to Paganism carry around in our heads no matter how devoted and knowledgeable we are. We need to develop future leaders, but we can’t do if we treat our younger generation with disregard and disrespect.
Infrastructure and Families
I mentioned above that those two topics kept coming up. Pagans are trying to find ways to have their group survive and thrive after the passing of a charismatic leader. Some already know that having some sort of organization and infrastructure is a needed while others are just coming to that conclusion. I spoke with coven leaders who worry that Wicca is in danger of dying out, even while numbers of Wiccans continue to grow. They said that the early leaders of Wicca set it up to be anti-establishment, which they like, but that built weaknesses into the religion. They worry the coven model is not sustainable and cannot support the initiatives that many in the community wish to have such as temples, charitable organizations, and groups that survive a leader’s death or retirement.
Other groups, like ADF, are not only surviving the death of a beloved leader – they are thriving and planning for growth. They have enough structure and organization to accomplish what they wish, but not so much that they stifle their members. They, like the Heathen groups, are focusing on being family friendly while not scaring off the the solitaries. Families are welcome at rituals and groves plan fun purely social events to build community ties. They are seeing more members of the same family become active in ADF and that creates a stable membership base. This was another area of concern for some Wiccans I spoke to – becoming more family friendly. They feel only attracting adult converts is not a paradigm desirable to continue. However, they didn’t have many ideas of how to bring families into the coven system successfully.
PantheaCon does a good job of bringing in non-Wiccan speakers for the workshops. If you are a recon of some flavor, there were many options for you and much you would find of interest. One thing I’m losing patience with, though, is Wicca-centric language at supposedly Pagan events. If it is a Wiccan event or topic I don’t begrudge using language and terminology that is exclusively Wiccan. But when the workshop is for Pagans of all types it would be better to keep the language more neutral. There is sometimes an assumption that we all use some type of coven system, believe in the God and the Goddess, and use magic. That we work with deities and aren’t religious, but spiritual. Looking around the audience at some of the workshops, I could tell I wasn’t the only one feeling like I was an outsider because of the language used and the assumptions made. In a panel discussion a woman asked a question about how they see Pagan leadership changing, especially as leaders emerge in non-religious roles. The panel, for the most part, couldn’t break free of their coven model mindset to understand the question. They gave suggestions about how people could help the HP or the HPS in tasks, but that wasn’t what the question was about. The question was about leaders who emerge in areas outside of religious authority. For example – Patrick McCollum is a leader in the greater Pagan community due to his social justice and interfaith work and it doesn’t matter if he is a priest or not. Jason Pitzl-Waters, Star Foster, and the Pagan Centered Podcast folks are leaders in our greater community, but they are not religious leaders. I talked to a few people in the audience about the question and the answer and generally Wiccans felt the question was answered well while the non-Wiccans were frustrated that the question was ignored or misunderstood.
I do have a two suggestions for PantheaCon and cons in general, but my first suggestion is for the attendees of both festivals and cons. TAKE A FRIGGIN SHOWER. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not. Getting on a crowded elevator or sitting next to someone for an hour who smells like old B.O. mixed with fresh B.O. is no treat. I mean, you all paid to stay in a hotel for the con, right? The room comes with a shower and free soaps and some shampoo. You might as well use them, you already paid for them. Heck, make it more fun and have a friend join you. Please. Because chances are, your friend smells just as ripe as you do.
Con organizers – have some side trip options. I can tell you, if you sent out an email to those pre-registered saying there was a bus trip to see a Hindu temple (we had some Hindu speakers this year) and you could go for an extra fee – people would click the link and enter their credit card information. If there was a day trip to wineries and a ritual for Dionysos offered, I would have done that too. I was able to go with some friends and see the redwood trees and visit a Hoodoo shop and I got jealous texts from people wishing they could go. These side trips could be offered a day before or after the con. Heck, you wouldn’t even have to put any money out for it, just go through an established travel group and have them organize it all, the con just sends out the email invite.
If you can attend PantheaCon, or another con or festival, I urge you to do so. Yes, the workshops are great and you get every penny’s worth of your reg fee. But it is the unexpected experiences and casual conversations that stay with you. It’s the people you meet and who you can keep conversing with long after the event is over that continue to add value in your life. Anything written about a con or a festival cannot capture the experience. Its like the mysteries we have in our religions – they are not mysteries because we what happens is a secret, they are powerful mysteries because we cannot put the experience into words. That is what Pantheacon is – a transformative mystery – one that you can’t fully appreciate while it is happening. It has to seep into your soul and simmer in your brain.