PantheaCon: Unity, Diversity, Controversy

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 21, 2012 — 218 Comments

On Monday I returned from the 2012 PantheaCon in San Jose, the largest annual indoor gathering of modern Pagans in North America. This is my third year attending the event, and for me it has become not so much about the panels and presentations, though they are often wonderful, enlightening, and oft-times challenging, but about connecting and reconnecting with the people I write about, network with on social media, or collaborate with in organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary or the Pagan Newswire Collective. PantheaCon is part of the glue that holds “Pagan community” together, that rare occasion when you actually see and experience members of The Sisterhood of Avalon hanging out with Thelemites, Feri initiates sharing drinks with Asatru, and ritual magicians discussing their work with Vodouisants. For that alone, Glenn Turner and the convention staff deserve special praise and recognition.

I think it’s vital to contextualize the uniqueness of PantheaCon, because we can sometimes lose focus on how important this event has become to so many, and just what a hothouse of our movement’s vast diversity and creativity is on display year after year. That PantheaCon succeeds where others fall short in mingling groups that can often have vastly different ideas about practice, theology, politics, and worldview. Because of this success it has become an unofficial annual meeting place of our movement’s leaders, clergy, scholars, and activists. Understandings are built, grudges resolved (and sometimes formed), and new projects hatched from talk over dinner, or in hurried conversations between presentations. If one had the time, and the people-power, a year’s worth of stories could be written from just these four days of intense activity. Due to all this, when controversies do arise, they tend to amplify throughout our movement, our interconnected community.

This year, debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest, complicating a dialog begun on the issue of gender and transgender within modern Paganism the year before, re-exposing raw emotions and hurts from both sides that we as a community are still in the process of acknowledging, understanding, and responding to. These events have sparked a lot of comment and reaction by those watching from the outside, and I think it is necessary to begin by listening to the voices that were in attendance, and who directly participated in the events the Pagan community are now discussing.

You can find much more discussion on this across the Pagan blogosphere. As more voices emerge, I will document them and share them with you here. I am committed to giving all involved in this matter an opportunity to share their perspectives, what they think the relevant issues are, and what they think the way forward is from this point. You should also stay tuned to PNC-Bay Area, who are planning several articles and editorials around this issue.

While things unfold, I want The Wild Hunt to be a space where all voices can come to be heard, in hopes of encouraging productive dialog and working towards understandings that collectively enrich us. As someone who sits atop the pyramid of privilege in our society, I hesitate to offer off-the-cuff opinions or solutions, and instead hope to be an advocate for transparency, renewed dialog, and building respect between all parties. Considering the thoughtful responses I’ve seen so far from those involved, I want the emphasis to be on their voices, not mine. In the weeks to come I am committed to listening and documenting, to being a resource for those engaged in the direct work.

In the year leading up to the 2013 PantheaCon, I anticipate that The Wild Hunt will cover this matter extensively. I will also slowly unpack my own thoughts as they develop, and hope that I can offer additional light when it is called for. In addition, you can expect coverage of the many other events, panels, and presentations at PantheaCon, so that their good work is not lost amid this storm.

ADDENDUM: Teo Bishop from Bishop in the Grove, who sat with the protesters, has written up his experience of the evening. Working from notes taken that evening. It is matter-of-fact, and essential reading for anyone who is interested in what exactly happened.

Jason Pitzl-Waters