Feb 232011

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.

Electric Atmosphere
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.

Wicca-Centric Language
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.

Just go!
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.

  31 Responses to “PantheaCon”

  1. *snerk* I see y’all have discovered why anime and gaming conventions put up signs everywhere that say things like “Take a shower!” and explain the proper use of soap and water, and many of them have adopted ‘proper hygiene’ into their lists of required con behaviors.

    The growing pains will pass. But as you were saying about the younger set being alienated, younger pagans who have experience organizing cons like DragonCon and GenCon could be of great, great use to future Pantheacons. Maybe tapping that resource would be a good idea in the future.

    • I was one of those people at DragonCon who handed out small soaps to people and told them to “Use this, please.” We called the smell ‘nerd-funk.’

      • Ha! My friend used to go to Dragon Con dressed as Shower Man. He had a little shower sticking out from his head and a shower curtain hooped around him and a rubber ducky hanging from his belt.

      • I know how that happens, though: “I should shower … but I might *MISS SOMETHING*!!”

  2. You’re absolutely right, Cara. The P-con book usually has a notice that patchouli oil doesn’t replace taking a shower!

    On another point, I am quite saddened that you experienced negative attitudes toward younger people. For a long time I have defended the value of beginners books as not everyone “gets it” from the same titles. That’s why it’s good to have beginner’s books, what some more experienced people refer to as “fluffy bunny” titles. More directly, I always try to give direct and clear responses to questions no matter the age of the person asking the question. I know that many of the presenters at P-con feel the same way and not only go out of their way to answer questions with respect, but actively seek out situations where they can do so.

    I regret that you experience people who acted without respect to younger people. I hope it wasn’t because the younger people weren’t disrespecting their elders. If a ritual is about to start and some people are talking, running around, and making fools of themselves, they should be told to shut up and sit down no matter their age. I’ve seen know-it-all elders who have been put in their places, too.

    The bottom line is that we should respect each other and treat each other with respect. Wouldn’t you agree?

  3. I am saddened but somewhat gratified to see that I wasn’t the only one feeling the disrespect towards young people. I thought it was just me — I look even younger than I am, so people tend to assume I’m closer to 20 than to 30, which isn’t true but I get why they’d think that. However, it’s really frustrating; I greatly respect all the work that the elders have done, but that doesn’t mean that those of us coming later have nothing to offer.

    I think it will be interesting to see going forward; I think a lot of my generation comes from a sort of start-up mentality. I wonder if, as younger people feel there is no room for them at the table, we’ll start to see more breaking off and founding of new things in order to compensate.

  4. Cara, would you expand on your last paragraph in it’s own posting sometime? Coming from a very solitary point of view, as a reconstructionist in an area that has public events held mostly by Wiccan or nearly-Wiccan groups, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the experience of festivals and gatherings.

  5. Cara, thanks for your rundown. I’m not a Solitary but I am a Sedentary, and it’s nice to get evocative reports of gatherings such as this.

    I am quite disturbed by the reported attitude toward young Pagans. Don’t we realize that they are our future? Unless we want neoPaganism to die with its founding generation, we need an attitude adjustment.

    Being the sort of Pagan who might have missed inappropriate Wicca-centric language, I’m glad you pointed it out. There are ways of dealing gently but irresistably with language issues, developed largely by the women’s movement, that could be applied.

  6. Thank you so much for this recap. You have touched on several topics that I have been discussing recently with my own friends. In particular, how elder pagans interact with younger pagans and in regards to wicca-centric language. I think both of these are important topics and I often say that if we can’t have stronger inter-Pagan relations what business do we have trying to interact with the world at large. Both of these issues I think speak to the same thing.

    I *really* want to make it to next year’s con. I have to admit I have been a little jealous reading all the updates and I wish I hadn’t missed out. I do not, however, miss the Con Funk (I do frequent Dragon*Con so I am familiar with this phenomenon).

  7. Cara was delightful to room with, and this is coming from someone very liberal politically. She is not an asshole, but not a lady to be trifled with either.

    The emphasis on infrastructure and families by various groups was interesting. I suspect we’ll be talking about those issues for awhile.

  8. I’ll admit I didn’t see the Elders/youth issue in person, having been dealing more with the gender discrimination/trans issues this year, but so many of my friends are a lot younger than me, some of them 20 years and more, and (so long as they’re not children, whom I just generally have issues with) I tend to go with level of discourse rather than age as my defining “do I want to deal with this person” bar. If I run into a 15 year old who’s able to have a coherent, adult conversation, I’ll have one with her. If there’s a 35 year old who can’t be arsed to stop squeeing for five minutes about the latest pop culture thing that I’ve never seen, I’m not going to bother.

    I absolutely agree with you about the genero-Wiccan language tending to be spread all over the rest of Paganism like a thick coating of fertilizer. When people who are attempting to speak for/about Paganism as a whole start yattering about “The Goddess and The God” I tend to tune them out because they are most manifestly not talking to or about my practice, my community, or most of my friends. I find the whole thing actively annoying. People wonder why reconstructionist groups tend to define themselves in the greater Pagan community as “not Wiccan” or even “not Pagan” and this is exactly what drives that sentiment. The assimilationist assumptions are vast and mighty. They should be stomped like a cockroach.

  9. Wow! I hoped that it was an isolated incident when I read the first comment about disrespecting our youngers. To see it repeated in the comments is very disturbing to me. It wasn’t just a one-time thing.

    I’m part of PantheaCon staff, and my husband and I couldn’t run our department without the energy and ideas of the under-40, under-30 (and until this year under-20 – happy birthday, girl!) members of our staff. They are amazing. Several times they told us they had things under control, and pushed us out to go have some fun – and get us out of their way, too, of course.

    Our younger folks are assets and many of them are treasures. Yes, we have a few diamonds in the rough who need some polishing, but we can’t polish those gems by ignoring them. We do it by teaching them, and preferably we’re teaching by example – treating them the same way we should all be treating each other.

    As for offers from younger, and more technologically connected, folks to help with anything… Please, let’s accept those offers. I’m not on Facebook yet, but our staff got my husband started on it after last year’s PantheaCon, and I think they’re finally going to drag me out of the 20th century this year. Whatever-it-is, it’s a new means of communicating, and we should all be taking advantages of these opportunities. If we aren’t communicating with each other, whatever it is we *think* we’re doing, it’s really only mental masturbation.

    • Sue –
      Pantheacon puts on a fabulous event and the staff I interacted with was friendly and helpful. I had a great time. So much so that I’m still trying to recover!

  10. To start on a frivolous note, there was a mention in one of the daily update flyers re: needing to eat, sleep and *shower*, but it was mystifyingly only on Sunday or Monday. . . WAY too late!

    I entirely agree with your comments on the language that sometimes excludes Pagans who are not also Wiccan, and have heard similar sentiments from others. Over my years of attendance the response I’ve personally come to is sticking to the reconstructionist programming tracks, but that is avoiding rather than addressing the problem. I’ve heard regret and frustration expressed at the fact that some traditions and their followers may be seen as standoffish for not participating in the universally-intended events, but that little effort has been made to acknowledge and include diversity. Many choose to show respect by not attending these events when they can’t participate whole-heartedly, which forestalls the opportunity for constructive dialogue on the issue.

    I am happy to say I haven’t seen or experienced disrespect for younger practitioners at Pantheacon this year or in others, but that may be a result of my self-limiting involvement in the wider-audience events due to my reconstructionist orientation.

  11. It was good to meet you there, and I wish we would have had more opportunity to talk and hang out then we did, alas! ;)

    I agree on a great deal of what you said above. “The Goddess and The God” is a particular pet peeve of mine; but then again, so is the generality of “the divine” that many people give. I’m not a monist, so that term doesn’t really work for me at all; if I must use a similar term, I’d have to go with “divinities” or even “divine realities” to include various other beings, etc.

    While I did not actively see any disrespect towards youth, I’m painfully aware at this stage of such things occurring. There was some expression, for example, of a lack of accessibility to appealing events for 17 and younger folks who wanted to do some of the queer-specific events like “Yes They Are!” (with which I was involved), so at future PantheaCons–particularly the next one–I’d like to offer a youth-specific event. One of the things that Antinous is about is the “wisdom of youth,” as he was somewhere between 17 and 20 when he died, but was an Eleusinian initiate at very least…And, I was the youngest one in the group when we started modern Antinoan devotion in 2002, at the ripe old age of 26. In our Lupercalia rituals, at least one of the three Luperci must be under the age of 30, and we’ve been able to meet that criterion, including in our latest version, when we only had one new Lupercus. So, certainly, people younger than 30 most definitely do have things to contribute and should be included more, and I look forward to having the opportunity to do so in the future.

    And, I feel left out once again in terms of this particular PantheaCon–I was often taking two or more showers a day this year! (But that was often because I needed to get various bits of make-up off my face…and, I believe in courtesy showers before getting into pools and hot tubs, which unfortunately most people don’t.) ;)

    • Agreed that this is a good recap. As another member of the “queer contingent,” the realization of how problematic our offerings were in terms of including our youth was distressing, and I pledge we will do better next year. Part of this was changes on the institutional level this year–Yes They Are!, for instance, was always geared to be open to minors who had parental/guardian approval, but that “rated R” changed. Similarly, in the past the Suites were able to “accept but not serve” people under 21 to parties, but this year that wasn’t an option. We didn’t realize that until we were at Con and it was too late to revamp our offerings.

      This year was a growing point for the movement, a point when our youth and our elders found themselves at an impasse. The gender issue was the easy sign to point to, but it came out in all sorts of areas–recon versus wiccan (versus reform), youth versus elders, etc. How do we keep moving forward and developing without establishing a council of Nicea? I’m not with John Michael Greer in thinking that Neopaganism is a passing fad, but how do we work create a religous movement when “spiritual but not religous” is the tag of the day?

  12. You make me think about subjects that have not occurred to me.

    Thank You

  13. This is a great post and brings up some really important themes. As an aging pagan I definitely feel the need to include the younger members of our community. Thank you for saying it so gracefully and not in an angry way. I know in our women’s circle we really missed the “maidens” when they went off on their life paths. Also, I live in San Jose, and a great side trip would be to the Egyptian Rosucrucian Museum, it really rocks and is really one of the only ones of its kind in the country. Great idea to include some day trips before and after the con – I have been to other cons that offer these, even in the middle of an intense week they provide a nice break and just getting out of the sterile atmosphere of the hotel is important. I saw a young woman there who was so burned out, sitting on the floor dazed, and asked her if she had been outside since the con started and when she said no, I said, just go outside for a little while. Breathe. OR go lay down. It is ovewhelming.

    Thanks for your perspective.

  14. I enjoyed chatting with you, Cara, when we were awaiting Jason for the PNC meet-n-greet. I’m quite tickled to see the PNC grow into our next century! It tickled me that the Pagan Muse & World Report is actually remembered in corners.

    And the whole content of the PNC session thereafter made me wish I was younger and more able, pushed an old Journalism button in me. Not happening, maybe next life.

    Oh, and about the smell-funk? Clearly we need to request that the old 6-2-1 rule goes back into the Program book, right up in front. (Everyone should try to get 6 hours sleep, 2 real meals, and 1 shower…EVERY DAY of the con.)

    Blessed be,

  15. The only downside to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose is that they have actual mummies in their wrappings but out of their sarcophogi…the only Egyptian exhibit I’ve ever viewed that made my psi antennae go twitching in horror and send me hurtling out of that part of the museum. And I went through Tut four times when it was in San Fran decades back.

    It felt rather as though one or more had been the featured guest at a Victorian mummy-unwrapping party.

    • Even if people don’t like the unwrapped mummies, the grounds are worth a trip, and very peaceful after the hurly-burly of the con.

  16. As a side trip, I recommend the Rosicrucian (AMORC) Egyptian Museum (in an Egyptian-style building) and lovely grounds with a pharoah, stele, big ole falcons, fountains, a peace garden and wonderful mature trees. Ten minutes from the con hotel.

  17. The section on “Respecting our Youngers” was such an important point, and it touched on some discussions in my community recently, so I shared the link pointing back to this entire article. Thank you for a most timely and pertinent article for me to refer to!

  18. Generally speaking, I found the family issue to be omnipresent- nit just because I am a new parent, bt because the ‘Con and our community is having growing pains. I wrote my first installment about this issue over at PNC Bay Area: http://bayarea.pagannewswirecollective.com

  19. The comments on youth remind me of something that happened a few years ago in the astrological community. A few panels were held on “where are the young astrologers?” since the general age was going up and up with the years. As a result, certain of the conventions and/or organizations actuallyhad reduced rates for younger astrologers and then some of them formed The Association of Young Astrologers, with dues based on things like if you’ve had a saturn return or not. An Association of Young Pagans would be delightful, supporting events with their energy and computer expertise and actively seeking out elders/mentors to learn from…..Any young Pagans want to start it?

  20. [...] been re-reading a review of this year’s PentheaCon at Pagan+Politics. There are a couple things of interest that Cara mentions regarding the the pagan [...]