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.

Nov 242010

“What are you thankful for?” is a common question many of us may be asked while we gather ’round the table with family and friends.  In past years I have listed things like my family, my health, a new job, a house or a better apartment.  This year I am thankful for the Dreamers in our religious community.

All those who don’t accept things as they are, imagine possibilities and then make them happen. There’s no way I could list all of the Dreamers I am thankful for, but allow me to list a few that have, in some way brought a dream to life that benefits our community.  And I invite you to list the Dreamers that you know and are thankful for.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

First, I am thankful for Jason Pitzl-Waters. One day he was pissing and moaning (heh, he’ll love that when he reads it!) about how there wasn’t a blog out there that compiled news interesting to Pagans with a bit of commentary thrown in.  So he started one, called The Wild Hunt. We all are better informed today, and more connected, because of his dream 6 years ago. A dream he acted on.  Not content with that, he started the Pagan Newswire Collective. This blog is but one project associated with PNC.  Local, and soon national, news bureaus are another project that Jason has spear-headed.  And managed to rope others into.  I suspect it’s because he didn’t want to go insane alone.  This thank you is far shorter than Jason deserves, but I hope I made up for that by mentioning him first.  Thank you, Jason.  Thank you for dreaming into existence a Pagan News Ecosystem. Because you’re right – it’s important.

H. Jeremiah Lewis

I am thankful for H. Jeremiah Lewis, aka Sannion. One of his dreams was to create a group dedicated to writing and publishing high quality devotional books.  He, and a few others, formed Neos Alexandria and on January 29th, 2008 Written in Wine – a devotional to Dionysos -  was  released.   Thirty people contributed to that first book and it was amazing.    Since then, the titles have kept coming.  So far 9 books have been released, 3 more go to press in the next few months, 2 more are currently open for submissions, and 3 more are soon to open Calls for Submission. Sannion is no longer part of Neos Alexandria (he has started another press – Nysa Press) but his dream is still thriving, providing Pagans with quality devotional books containing essays, poetry, devotional material, original artwork, and short fiction focused on a particular divinity or group of divinities.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t also express my thanks to the current editorial board of Neos Alexandria and everyone involved with these books.  My spiritual life is more enriched because of you.

Z. McAtee

Alexandra Bond

I’m thankful for Z. McAtee, President of Hellenion and Alexandra Bond, Secretary of Hellenion. These two women have the completely, totally, baffling dream that they can successfully herd cats Pagans.  And they do.   Day in and Day out they do the hard, tedious, and often thankless grunt work that comes with keeping a legally recognized church, with local congregations (Demos), running.  They’ve kept the clergy program going and we now have a library Hellenion members  can access.  Oh yeah…and the Temenos has been updated, too.  They accomplish this while the rest of us are bitching, asking them for the impossible, and having a fun time chatting on the Hellenion Yahoo groups. Their dream is to have functional and spiritually fulfilling congregations around the world so Hellenic Pagans can enjoy the fellowship that comes from group worship.  Some of the Demos are really starting to click, drawing 50 or more participants in their public rituals.   McAtee and Bond didn’t originate this dream, but they have picked up the torch when it was starting to sputter out and have done an incredible job.  Because of you, there are fewer Hellenes struggling with religious isolation.

Temple of the River, Twi Cities, MN

I am thankful for Andrew Jacob and the Twin Cities Old Belief Society for building a beautiful Celtic Temple. Especially for building it within a city so it is accessible to a larger number of people.  His group dreamed of a physical temple, a permanent place to worship and honor their Gods.  They pulled together and donated time, sweat, money,  smashed thumbs, love.  They put their hearts and souls into the temple and you can see it. Thank you.  Thank you so much for proving to  me that creating temples for our Gods is not some impossible task, never to be realized.  Every time I look at photos of your temple, it fills me with hope and determination.  Thank you for nourishing my own dream of building a temple for the Gods I honor.

Patrick McCollum at the International Day of Peace at the UN

I am thankful for Patrick McCollum. I could list all the smaller dreams he has brought into reality, but I really want to thank him for not being an asshole.  You laugh, I know.  But to see an Activist use grace, persuasion, kindness, thoughtfulness, and intelligence in place of ranting, violence, hatred, hyperbole, and aggression – and yet still make such strides in fighting for all of our rights -  Patrick, I am in awe of you and I am properly shamed by your example.  Patrick was one of the founding members of the Lady Liberty League and now he’s on a United Nations board.  He’s fighting against the truly crappy ‘five faiths” policy  -  a case which has direct consequences for all of us even though it is a policy within the California prison system. He worked hard on ensuring that the VA would allow fallen Wiccan Vets to have the pentacle on their headstone. Thank you for being you, while working to secure my rights, even though I am an asshole.  And thank you for wearing cowboy boots with your sarong wrap skirt at PSG – if you can pull off that look, and you did, you can do anything.

Star Foster

We should all be thankful for Star Foster, who manages the Pagan Portal at Patheos. It would be easy for Pagans to be dismissed, overlooked, or downplayed on a mainstream site that tries to be inclusive of all religions.  *cough*beliefnet*cough*  The power of her dream for the Pagan Portal (and the power of her magic pink hair)  wouldn’t allow that.  She cheerfully represents a Pagan POV and recruits others in our community to lend our voices to the interfaith conversation.  Through her guidance the Pagan Portal draws enough traffic to give even the Evangelicals a run for their money.  We are heard, we are not overlooked on Patheos.  And I am very, very thankful that Patheos continues to support and promote the Pagan Portal, even though they have lost sponsors because we are there.

Paul Magee

Teisha Magee

And last (for this blog post, I could thank many more Dreamers) I would like to thank Paul and Teisha Magee. Their dream enabled the entire Pagan Twin Cities, Minnesota community to fulfill its dream – a real Community Center. The only one currently in existance in the USA.  Not a room in someone’s house, not rented room in a shop.  A real, honest to goodness community center.  Where we can have potlucks (it’s a Minnesota thing) and concerts and classes and meetings and family events.  A place to honor our dead. It hasn’t been easy, this dream.  There have been financial struggles and questions from the community about if something like this is viable.  Paul, Teisha, and the rest of the Sacred Paths Center board never gave up.  So I thank you for creating a spiritual home for all of us in Paganistan.

Note:  an earlier version of this post accidentally omitted Star Foster.   I plead technical difficulties while loading the post to wordpress.  Star, forgive me!