The Weekend Before

Eric O. Scott —  February 13, 2013 — 7 Comments
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Oh, like you need my phone number.

Friday

Today I bought business cards. This feels more important than it probably is.

Pantheacon starts in one week. I have never been before; for that matter, I have never been to any Pagan event like this except for the Heartland Pagan Festival and St. Louis’s Pagan Pride Day. The last time I went to Heartland, the attendance was, I think, around six or seven hundred. I’m told Pantheacon is about four times that big. That’s a lot of people to meet. Supposedly I should have gotten ribbons, but business cards will have to do for now.

“Take a look at this,” I say to my girlfriend. We live in different cities at the moment, a moment that has lasted nearly the entirety of our relationship, so this conversation happens over Facebook. I send her a picture of a business card design I made up on the Office Depot website. “Is it hideous?”

The card is blue and green, vertically aligned. At the top is a surreal picture, the silhouette of a man standing in the center of a pyramid whose walls are made of a starscape, a sky dotted with clouds, and a field. Below that, my pitch: “Eric O. Scott, Author, Blogger, Memoirist. Contributor to Killing the Buddha, Patheos, Pagan Square, and the Wild Hunt.” Below that, an array of contact info.

“Hideous is way too strong a word,” she says. “Though it’s wordy. What’s the story on that picture, anyway?”

“It was the only thing that popped up when I searched for ‘New Age.'” Office Depot, as expected, had no results at all for “Wiccan” or “Pagan.”

“The graphic doesn’t seem very you,” she says. “You are more of a tree than a mystical triangle thing. You have roots.”

This may well be the sweetest thing she’s ever said to me.

Saturday

Today is the big Mardi Gras parade down in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. I don’t go to the parade – I had to work the night before, so I slept, instead – but in the afternoon I go to my parents’ party. They throw one every year, ever since my mother developed a love for New Orleans after spending a long weekend there with her a friends a decade and a half ago. Sometimes I am struck by the oddity of our fervor for an ostensibly Catholic holiday, the point of Mardi Gras being a final explosion of indulgence before the long austerity of Lent.

Then again, I suspect the majority of people getting drunk at 11 AM down in Soulard don’t plan to give up anything until Easter, either, so perhaps we’re just playing along.

They draw a big crowd this year, dozens of hungry mouths waiting to scoop out bowls of jambalaya and gumbo. People stake out their spots out on the patio, in the living room, or in the kitchen, the last of these being obviously the prime location. My dad’s friends congratulate me on my upcoming book, much to my discomfort. My aunt attempts to play the tambourine and mostly fails. It’s a good party.

A friend of the family shows up later on, once most of the food is gone. She goes to Pantheacon most years, though she won’t be there this time. (I’m secretly grateful she is staying home; I know myself well enough to know that I tend to cling to the people I know when I’m in a crowded room. The best insurance against my own shyness is to simply not know anybody.) She gives me a list of recommendations: bring a cup, keep track of time, don’t get star-struck when Margot Adler passes by. (No promises.)

“And try not to stand in the back of the elevator, if you can help it,” she adds. “There’s a guy there who will try to grab your ass if you aren’t careful.”

Something to look forward to, I guess.

Sunday

Today is a road day. I’m heading east, to Champaign, Illinois, where my girlfriend goes to graduate school. I’m working on three hours of sleep and a Coke. I miss the turn off from Highway 55 and have to circle back around, lest I end up in Bloomington and add to my girlfriend’s ledger of Evidence That I Am Bad At Directions.

It’s going to be a packed week. Four nights in Champaign, followed by another day of driving on Thursday to be home in time for my father’s birthday dinner. (Yes, he was born on Valentine’s Day.) Then a 6 AM flight to San Jose, followed by…

Something. I don’t know what, yet.

As I have noted before, I am a statistical freak. Pagans-and-Heathens-and-Polytheists – look, you know what I’m talking about – we are, by and large, converts from Something Else. My parents were both Low Protestant Christians in their childhoods. I know some ex-Catholics, some ex-Lutherans, some ex-atheists. But I was born into it. It’s all I’ve ever known. And that has non-obvious consequences.

Here’s a big one: I’ve never gone looking for a Pagan community, because I’ve always had one of my own. While I’ve known of other Pagans in the places I’ve lived – my dad infamously engaged in open warfare with certain St. Louis Pagans in the days of listservs – I’ve never sought them out myself with the hope of making connections or friendships. I considered myself as isolated from the “greater Pagan community” as I was from mainstream religions, an outlier to both, my life holding little in common with anyone else’s. (As a teenager, I would occasionally meet another teen who had just declared themselves a Witch and hear the inevitable conversion narrative. “Sure, my parents made me go to church, but in my heart I know I’ve always been Pagan.” I would smile, but inside, I always thought, “Really? Because my heart never told me that, and I actually -was- always Pagan.”)

I’m told that Pantheacon is a friendly place, that I’ll find the place inviting. I hope so, of course. But still, it’s an awful long way from home.

I make it to Champaign before dark. I kiss my girlfriend hello and say nothing about missing the turn.

Monday

Today my girlfriend spends her time preparing for the oral examination of her qualifying papers, which will be held tomorrow. Late in the evening I watch her rehearsing with her PowerPoint. Slides flash by, full of citations for studies into Russian language acquisition and data points for the relative cultural prestige of languages in Kazakhstan. Though my life revolves around language, it’s over my head; I only took one semester of Linguistics, and that was years ago.

I spend most of the day doing crossword puzzles, writing, and reading anything that comes across the Pantheacon Twitter feed. The CAYA coven posts their packing list, which seems useful, though I have no idea what counts as “necessary” ritual gear; I’ve only done ritual with strangers a handful of times. (Can you stow an athame in a suitcase? What if it’s wrapped in a sock?) The Pantheacon site suggests only picking three “must-see” events a day, as there simply isn’t time to see it all. I glance at the schedule I’d set out, which has only three empty slots throughout the weekend.

I get the feeling that I am not prepared for this, that I have decided to dive into a cenote without first learning how to swim. By nature, I am a solitary person, accustomed to sharing my religious life only with my family. I am all too aware that my experience with the “greater Pagan community” has, for the most part, come only at the safe distance of a computer screen. In a few days I will find myself standing in the middle of a convention full of strangers in California, strangers with whom I may have many more points of divergence than similarity. My vision of that coming throng scares me a little.

And then, I shrug. Oh well. So what if I’m anxious? There’s nothing to do with the unknown but conquer or be killed by it. The flight’s already booked; the business cards have been printed. The dark water glints at the bottom of the pit. The only thing left now is to jump.

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Eric O. Scott

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Eric O. Scott was raised by witches. He is a staff writer for The Wild Hunt and a contributing editor at Killing the Buddha. He won the Moon Books prize for Best Pagan Fiction Writer Under 30 in 2012. His first book, The Lives of the Apostates, was published in 2013. He received his MFA in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction from the University of Missouri - Kansas City in 2010, and is currently a PHD student in Creative Nonfiction and Medieval Studies at the University of Missouri - Columbia. His middle name is not "Odin."
  • DarkSidhe

    Helpful hint. You can stow an athame in your suitcase, provided you check the suitcase. Don’t try to carry it on.

    • Sarah Geimer

      Good advice. Don’t want you getting flagged by Homeland Security, Eric. :)

  • Burninghiram

    I am also going over the mountain and attending Pcon. I may be the only person that found the ribbons annoying, so good on you. The advice about MUST SEE items is great, I use the schedule personalization do-hicky on their web site and mark anything I
    would like to see and then let the con take me. Make sure you step in to the hospitality
    rooms, best conversations anywhere.

  • Burninghiram

    Sorry, forgot 1 thing, go see Wendy Rule on Friday and Pandemonium on Saturday. Some of my favorite music, will be played

  • Kilmrnock

    My friend i just wanted to comment on your status as a 2nd generation pagan . consider yourself furtunate . Most of us had to find our ways here thru conversion , in my case i came to my path by way of atheism. And i wasn’t athiest from the beginning , Just for the record , i am 57 at this point.In my late teens i became athiest , after 20 years or so and a life changing experience i found paganism , CR to be exact . The one thing that did make becoming pagan easier for me was having been away from monotheism for quite some time i didn’t bring alot of baggage with me , had left most of it behind long ago . I had also retrained my mind , actualy reawoke A Celtic state of mind, and a warrior ethic along the way as well . My ancestry is Celtic , hense reawakening thought patterns .What i’m getting at was being atheist made coming to paganism easier , altho i am a convert just the same .You my freind are rare , hopefully less so in the not too distant future as pagan families and ways age and become more common . Please be patient with us converts . I have been on this path for over 25 yrs , but many are fairly new or brand new pagans. Many , to some extent all new pagans have some difficulty dealing with and clearing out the cobwebs left behind from their previous monotheistic faiths .We had to reset our minds to a pagan state of mind , way of thinking . We din’t come into paganism with a built in support system or much help at all had to find our way and eventual path on our own , I like most other CR went the w/ ways of our ancestors , even before becoming pagan i had a keen interest in my ethnic heritage , becoming CR and finding a CR style faith looking back seems a natural step.But what i trying to get at is finding our way wasn’t easy and in many cases can be quite traumatic , so please be patient with us .And alslo have fun at Pantheacon and good luck, don’t forget to enjoy yourself . Kilm

  • Deborah Bender

    I’m a somewhat introverted person who goes to Pcon regularly. Here’s some additional advice on how to enjoy it.

    1. In the front part of the program, many hospitality suites are listed, with their open hours and scheduled activities. Some of these suites are good places to go for a relaxed conversation with strangers, especially in between their organized events. I recommend the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite, which is run by three witchcraft/Wiccan organizations. Most hospitality suites, including the one run by the con staff, offer light snacks.

    2. PantheaCon is a nineteen ring circus running from early morning to late night. You can’t possibly go to every activity that interests you. If you find yourself running out of energy or freaking out at the crowds, take a nap or get something to eat or do something else quiet and relaxing for awhile. If you have jittery energy to work off, go to the hotel gym if you have workout clothes with you, or take the program map and wander around until you have located everything on it. There are meeting locations in several parts of the hotel, and the geography can be confusing for a first timer.

    3. Some of the things that you enjoy the most will be unplanned for. Some of the things you plan for will be duds. Be open to serendipitous encounters.

    4. If you find hanging out in a spa or swimming pool relaxing, don’t forget to pack your trunks and some kind of robe.
    5. There are drum circles if you like that sort of thing.
    6. Cards are more useful than ribbons if you want to keep in touch after the con.
    7. Most of the rituals can be attended in street clothing. Some of the African ones require whites. The Pombagira ritual, which is also a dance, is an occasion to dress up in sexy red and black.
    8. Since you are a writer, I presume you will pack a notebook, tablet or laptop.
    9. A variety of people come to PantheaCon. You will will see other guys who look like you. Also lots of people who don’t.
    10. Especially if you aren’t staying at the Doubletree, bring a light knapsack, reusable shopping bag, or some other container that will hold a jacket or sweater, a snack and anything you purchase. It can get too cold in parts of the hotel, or you may be running between two programs and not have time for a meal, so it’s good to have everything you need for comfort with you.

  • Jo Jenson

    I’ve gone to Pantheacon for several years. In addition to the advice given by others, especially Deborah Bender, I’d add the following:

    1. The CAYA note on “necessary ritual gear” may well have been meant for their members that are participating in leading various rituals, as Deborah said, most of the rituals can be atteended in street clothes.

    2. I usually go through the program and note everything I would like to attend with a special highlight for the ones that I consider must-sees. Then I let the flow of the con take me where it will, I usually make my must-sees and a few other things I want to see. I have never been able to see everything I want to before the Con starts but it never seems to matter.

    3. When it comes to your must-sees be sure to get there early, some of the programming in the last couple of years has been for “sold out” crowds, the Con sticks to the occupancy limits for the presentation rooms and if you are not there early you may find the room full by the time you get to the door. This has been the case in particular for Orion Foxwood, T. Thorn Coyle, the Morrigan Devotional and many of the programs in the smaller rooms.

    4. The Con’s suggestion of 3 events a day is a fairly good one, I can fit in more if some of them are panel discussions, presentations,or concerts but 3 rituals a day is about my limit. I don’t usually do 2 large rituals one after the other with only the 30 minute break between, I leave myself time to decompress and intergrate any insights that might have come up for me.

    5. Even if you are booked in the Con hotel carry snacks, it’s always good to have something in case you get really busy. And if you are going to any of the larger rituals, like the Morrigan Devotional at 7pm on Saturday (I highly recommend it) carry a little chocolate as well, it’s good to have something to ground after ritual.

    6. Like Deborah said, there are places in the hotel that are colder than others. I usually carry a light sweater so I don’t end up getting too cold.

    7. There are lots of hospitality suites that are open at various times during the day. Many or them put one rituals and presentations in addition to the regular convention programming. Check the front of the Program Book for information on the various hospitality suites. They can also be a place to relax and hang out with a much smaller group of people that the main events.

    8. And be sure to leave time to wander through the Dealer’s Room, the vendors that come have amazing wares.

    I hope you have a great time & maybe Ill see you there,