The PantheaCon Whirlwind

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 17, 2014 — 49 Comments

Since Friday, I’ve been at PantheaCon 2014, the largest indoor Pagan conference in North America. I’ve been attending for the last 5 years, and it is both exhausting and invigorating as an experience. It is also, in my opinion, a very good place to key into issues, trends, and events that will ripple through our broader community in the months that follow. This year, I’m lucky in the fact that The Wild Hunt is no longer my solo venture, and that I work with a highly talented team of writers and columnists. So expect a number of different write-ups and perspectives in the coming weeks.

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If I were to sum up what I thought the spirit of PantheaCon this year was, I think it would be the overarching question: What kind of community, what kind of religious movement, do we want? Who do we want to include? Who do we want to exclude? What do we look like? Are we prepared to examine our flaws? Our privilege ? Do we want to build new institutions? Are the ones that we have serving us? Everywhere I turned, it seemed to be a year of transition (albeit with a number of parties and the usual large, transformative, public rituals).

For me, and I will expand on this in the coming week, it was a weekend where I solidified future plans for The Wild Hunt, plans that I hope will make us stronger and able to thrive in the years to come. It was also a weekend where if had the honor of DJing at the Hexenfest party, connecting to a piece of myself from my own past, while helping build a new Pagan music and arts festival that will hopefully have a great impact for years to come. Finally, it was a year where I witnessed first hand the vibrant Pagan media community that has emerged over the last ten years, and knew that whatever the future brings, it will not happen without strong commentary, investigation, and reporting.

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So, for now, forgive this truncated post, I hope you’ll see it as a promise of things to come.

Photos by the talented Tony Mierzwicki, first photo of a Llewellyn authors gathering, the second of LaSara Firefox and Oberon Zell.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Nivasi

    Thank you for posting this out, we all need to rethink what our community’s needs are.

  • This Pagan

    This community, whatever it is, is not sustainable. It is not based in the real world. Having stepped out of it for awhile, I realized that it does not matter to the people who are not in it. The world does not care that we exist. Paganism does not exist to the outside world. We think it does when we’re in it. But if you step outside of the Pagan community for a little while, you find that we’re not relevant to the other 7 billion people on the planet.

    There is no unifying principle, as in other successful religious communities. We don’t agree on ANY ONE THING. Even Christians agree that there is a God and his name is God and they have some story about Christ and/or Jesus. Well, there is not a single item that Pagans can agree on. Not even the fact that we’re not Christian, because some of us are. We have no unifying story/theme. Not even nature/Earth. Not even magic.

    Most of us live in a fantasy world and struggle to deal with reality. We need to be talking about personal financial stability, mental health, nutrition, education, STD’s, careers, etc. We need us to be a healthy, stable community of people who succeed in their careers so they donate lots of money to their religious organizations and we have buildings and ministries and all of that. Show me a successful religious template that is not that. We have to give a percentage of our income or we won’t make it.

    Most of our leaders wind up with severe health problems. Probably overworked. Only about 10 people have probably made enough to live off of to devote their lives to Paganism.

    We drop hundreds to study with people because they have a gimmick and we think that will make use more powerful (false), but we struggle to give $5 to people who actually change our lives for the better.

    We don’t expose frauds, criminals, and abuse the way we should. Community centers that have their money laundered and major organization founders that are drug addicts and steal money from their members to fuel their habits.

    Most of the teachers make up stuff and sell it to you. That is why there is a lack in advanced material. Advanced Pagan material is real life. You know, I have more personal power and more money now that Paganism is just one small aspect of my life instead of my whole life.

    A lot of the news links posted on this blog are not about “this”
    community, but words are used that we used, and suddenly these things
    relate to us.

    • Grace V.S.

      Most of us live in a fantasy world and struggle to deal with reality. We need to be talking about personal financial stability, mental health, nutrition, education, STD’s, careers, etc. Yep!!!! I’ve been mulling over this same idea for quite some time because I have noticed that Pagans (as a whole) identify as people that do not “fit” into society and often utilize fantasy-ish type names vs. their given names. As a result, there can be a lack of integration of all parts of self into a whole, functioning person. We live in our heads and often have difficulty mastering our bodies or molding our environments. How can we expect respect from others and create success in all aspects of our lives while living essentially apart from the rest of society — not actually in it. I am blessed that my workplace (a hospital) embraces diversity and am encouraged to see Pagans admitting they are Pagan vs. keeping quiet about their beliefs and practices when they check in to the hospital for care. So far, it’s been about 50/50 of people gainfully employed vs. living on disability.

    • kenofken

      I’m not sure why anyone still clings to the idea that “paganism” can be a useful organizing entity with some unified narrative or belief system. It was barely a realistic idea in past decades when the “community” was essentially Wiccan. It’s inconceivable now. Paganism is really just a movement, a discussion really among other movements that feel some shred of common identity which can be based on the aesthetics of their religion more than theology. We still, I think , share some abiding common interest in religious freedom and separation of church and state, at least in this country. We do need to foster discussions about balance and well being. I’m not so sure at all that we need to measure our success or failure by a Mormon yardstick of raising lots of money and building lots of temples. That’s simply not what many of us are in this for, and if that makes us “irrelevant” to the rest of the world, that’s their loss, not ours. I think some theologies and movements will gravitate toward that physical infrastructure and model of worship, but I don’t see that it’s incumbent upon “paganism” to do so as a whole. If you think lots of organization is the key to financial accountability and transparency against abuse and financial fraud, read up on the Catholic Church sometime. That outfit has laundered more than most nations see as a GDP. Are we all a bunch of unemployed escapists? I think we have a set of people who are visible in that role, but I don’t know its true as a general matter. Most of the pagans I know and work with are middle class or better. We’re doing, on average, about as well as this terminally ill economy of ours.

      • That Pagan

        I like the idea of Paganism as a discussion.

        There is quite an array of abuse and fraud in Paganism for many of the same reasons as the Catholic Church. Buildings and more money won’t fix it. But, ignoring it is not the way it is going to get fixed either.

        • kenofken

          Personally, I think a relatively minimalist approach to infrastructure can help minimize abuse. That doesn’t mean I don’t support institutions, but their mission should always be very well articulated, well justified, and have strong-buy in among their target constituency. If I have a criticism of pagan organization, it is that we have tended to do too much by heartstrings and good intentions and bubble gum and bailing wire. I have argued for years for more professionalization of our non-profit endeavors. Skilled management, good accounting and strategic planning and transparency go a long way toward preventing abuses and ensuring success.

    • Merlyn7

      “Most of us live in a fantasy world and struggle to deal with reality. We need to be talking about personal financial stability, mental health, nutrition, education, STD’s, careers, etc.”

      No other religion I have heard of has found answers to these problems.

      • That Pagan

        That does not mean we shouldn’t have the conversations. This whole journey is about having a set of experiences that put us in touch with the divine. These real world experiences are a valuable part of the process that is missing.

        • Merlyn7

          There have been several panels at Pantheacon over the years about nutrition and healthy exercise. There are also sessions and hospitality suites for pagans in recovery.

          You also mentioned STDs, there was a panel on safer sex this year. You can see the whole list of sessions on their site.

          • That Pagan

            Jason’s comments were about the Pagan community, not just the offerings at Pantheacon. A few classes at one conference on the west coast does not meant that it’s all good.

            I see the big issue is that Pagans do not want to be told what they should not do, even when those things are illegal, abusive, and to the disregard of other people’s health and safety. So, they don’t want to tell other people what they shouldn’t do, because they don’t want to be told what not to do.

            What I meant by STD’s is how segments of the Pagan community have STD’s (some HIV positive) and through the promiscuous behavior have potentially infected and not informed many members of our community. Yet the whistle blowers are the ones who are looked down upon and threatened.

            Last year, it became very taboo to open up the conversation about obesity.

            Speaking of recovery, I’ve watched people be told that they need to stop drinking or get out and just how well that goes over with a group.

            How about people who are referred to mental health professionals by Pagan leaders and not only refuse treatment, but then hop to other groups and start campaigns against those leaders. Sometimes starting “witch wars” that tear local communities apart. We’ve lost some great resources over crap like that. It’s not currently ok to tell someone that they need professional help before participating, because then you’re the bad guy.

            I’ve watched people get into such financial ruin going to these conferences, buying this stuff, going to these teachers, and trying to run these festivals. Don’t get me started on trying to start a holistic/magical business and the financial ruin that can put people in. The Pagan conversation tells you to follow your bliss. In reality, we need to educate our community how to make the best decisions for the future. One of these blogs mentioned a publicly funded Pagan retirement home for all of these aging elders with no retirement money. I read that poor planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.

            I’ve watched some Pagans cheat on their spouse or significant other and then the spouse is the one who is shunned. But, no one wants to be told that you shouldn’t cheat. No, it’s not the same thing as being poly.

            And, the sexual harassment that goes on is ridiculous. I’ve been inappropriately touched on more than one occasion. But, that’s apparently cool.

          • sln1987

            You don’t want to help pay for a retirement home for our elders but you want people to take their hard earned money and help build some temple somewhere to prove we are a legit religion? Our temples are our homes, or the land and forests near our homes.

            What you say are issues in the pagan community are no different than what is in society as a whole. It just seems amplified because the pagan community is smaller.

            You seem to only see the negative within our community. I agree that in some areas it is there, but you cannot change someone who does not want to be changed. I know from experience. You can only protect yourself and a lot of times let go and move away from that energy.

            To me the pagan community is a positive thing, there was something missing in my life and in this community I have found a home. No home is perfect but how you look at it is up to you.

    • Deborah Bender

      “You know, I have more personal power and more money now that Paganism is just one small aspect of my life instead of my whole life.”

      Good for you, sincerely. The form of Paganism that I practice (Wicca) emphasizes self-assessment and living a balanced life. It sounds as if you are doing both successfully.

      Being Pagan isn’t about immersing oneself in a Pagan subculture 24/7, unless that happens to be what you want and you have access to a subculture that meets your needs. Paganism also isn’t a viable career path for most people, nor should it be IMHO. If someone decides to dedicate their life to being a religious teacher, to the detriment of their material security, that is their choice. It is not my obligation to support your religious calling unless I am your disciple or a close friend.

      “There is no unifying principle, as in other successful religious communities. We don’t agree on ANY ONE THING. Even Christians agree that there is a God and his name is God and they have some story about Christ and/or Jesus. ” Christianity is a doctrine-oriented religion; that’s one of several models. Other religions find their commonality in practices, values, and/or community. Jews don’t agree about any one thing except maybe that they are Jews, yet Judaism has carried on for three thousand years.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        So there are aspects of Judaism that reject the Torah, Talmud, and other teachings of the Rabbis? They reject the god of Abraham?

        There is one defining characteristic of Judaism. Something that makes them “Jews”.

        Pagans don’t have that.

        • Deborah Bender

          Leoht, since the Reform and Conservative denominations began to recognize descent through the father as equal to both descent from the mother and formal religious conversion, there is no longer any single defining characteristic that all Jews agree on makes a person a Jew or not a Jew. Check this out if you don’t believe me.

          Well before this happened, there were lots of Jews who are either atheist or agnostic, and who belonged to a congregation and/or were active in the Jewish community for reasons other than belief in or desire to worship a deity. My father of blessed memory, a rationalistic and scientifically minded engineer, was one of these. His father alech hashalom taught him to lay tefillin and say the morning prayers, and also sent him to a Protestant Sunday school because that was the only religious education available in the 1920s in the small Oklahoma town where they lived.

          Judaism has doctrines; Judaism has practices; Judaism has many stories. Values are taught formally in the house of study and prayer and less formally in the home. Individuals have a very wide scope for differing understandings and relationships to those doctrines, practices, and stories. In the end, at least in countries that allow some free exercise of religion, what counts most is whether one chooses to separate oneself from the Jewish community or participate in it.

          A denomination of Judaism called Reconstructionism was started in the early twentieth century by an Orthodox rabbi named Mordecai Kaplan who was an atheist. His position was that calling Judaism a religion or a nationality is an inadequate description; according to Kaplan, Judaism is a civilization. If one looks at the entire history of the Jewish people without imposing a religious or political narrative on the data, I think this is a useful view and applies better to the very wide range of expression of Jewish culture through time than any other. It also would have some analytic value for anyone looking at the very wide range of ancient and contemporary cultures dominated by some form of pagan religion.

          One of Rabbi Kaplan’s sayings, which is frequently quoted by Jews in other liberal denominations, is “Torah gets a vote, not a veto.” Reconstructionism is not as numerous as some of the other liberal branches of Judaism, so it isn’t widely known, but it invented the concept of the Jewish Community Center, which is a gathering place for Jewish activities that is not sponsored by any particular synagogue or denomination. This was a brilliant modern invention, in that it restores much of the cultural interaction between Jews (and friendly gentiles) that takes place outside the synagogue in more traditional cultures and economies.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            But just because some Jews are atheists or, say, just don’t believe that the Torah, Talmud, halachah, Kabbalah etc has a divine origin doesn’t take away from those things being a central part of Jewish identity. There is still a number of fairly concrete things that being Jewish is based around. There’s an identifiable culture, tradition, and heritage. There is no such thing for all pagans.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Judaism has two distinct aspects – the religious aspect and the genetic aspect.

            An atheist Jew is one who is still of the Hebrew bloodline, whilst not following their teachings, for example. Plus there are those not of Jewish ancestry that convert to Judaism.

            If we ignore the “genetic” Jew as irrelevant to the conversation, we are left with the religious Jew (regardless of denomination).

            What defines a religious Jew? It certainly is not their devotion to Zeus.

          • Deborah Bender

            Those aspects may be distinct in theory but they certainly are not in practice. Some otherwise completely secular, nonobservant Jews hold Passover seders and nearly all Jews arrange to have their male babies ritually circumcised on the eighth day. Among many Jews, belief or non-belief in God is regarded as a completely personal matter that you don’t talk about. Many non-Christian Americans have Christmas decorations in their homes and exchange gifts. I hear that there are or used to be a good many British pagans who attend C. of E.

            Sharp lines between ethnicity and religious affiliation did not arise until the Enlightenment, when governments in Europe and the Americas began to confer equal rights of citizenship on people regardless of which religious community they belonged to. This required minority religions and their adherents to define the boundaries of religion in a way that left room for loyalty to the nation state. A twentieth century example of this is that when John F. Kennedy ran for President, he had to make a speech assuring Protestant voters that he wasn’t going to take orders from the Pope.

            When you are looking at any religion or complex of religions with origins more than three hundred years ago, drawing sharp boundaries around the “religion” part is projecting modern attitudes on the past. Certainly this applies to the way pagans of antiquity thought and acted. Jewish readers of this comment might be interested in reading a book called When Judaism Became A Religion.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            I take a reductionist view.

            Christmas is Christian, Hanukkah is Jewish, Eid is Muslim…

            These things are recognisably of one religion or another, regardless how secularised or appropriated they have become in recent years.

            Each of the Abrahamic sects can be clearly defined with pretty basic criteria that, whilst not perfect, give the gist of the religious beliefs found within.

            Modern Paganism lacks any such thing.

    • http://endlesserring.wordpress.com/ Treeshrew

      ‘Most of us live in a fantasy world’…’most of our leaders wind up with severe mental health problems’…’we don’t expose frauds’ etc etc.

      Citation needed, I think.

  • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

    “Who do we want to exclude?”

    This was exactly the reason I stopped going to PantheaCon in the first place. It has long since quit being about anything but a bunch of privileged special interest groups. I resent the idea that I have to pay the same price as everyone else, but as a straight white male there are large parts of the Con where I’m simply not welcome, and people have actually placed GUARDS AT THE DOOR to make sure that I know I’m not worthy to participate.

    PantheaCon used to be about pagans, about *all* pagans and what brings us together, but it’s become a squabbling bunch of factions divided over race, gender, orientation and any number of variations on those themes. I went the year before last (the year Z made the big stink about “Transies”) and I quickly got sick of hearing people LOUDLY (to themselves) talking smack about how sick they are of seeing white people wearing beads. When they decided last year to have a special section of the Conference specifically for browbeating white people (this was actually in their own description of the area), I decided that I’d had enough.

    If this is paganism, I’m out. I’d rather go back to working WITH people, instead of trying to elevate myself above them.

    • Faoladh

      And that would be the discussion. What lines do we want to draw? What lines do we not want to draw?

      For example, you obviously do not want to draw the line at “white males”. That seems reasonable. I am a white male myself, and I’d like to not be excluded. How about serial rapists? Should they be included or excluded in our communities, or is there a third possibility? What about prostitutes? Republicans? Democrats? Evangelical Christians? New Age advocates? Ayahuasca advocates? Who should we count under the umbrella of “Paganism”?

      This is an interesting discussion to me because I once, in response to a charge that there were no Pagan rappers, mentioned Kelee Maize. Now, Maize has sung (rapped, whatever) about her variety of devotion to Isis (to be fair, it is not very similar to most Kemetics or Greco-Egyptians), which seems to me would make her a Pagan of some sort, at least. But, I was told by others that she didn’t count, because she was more of a “New Ager”, which is fair enough. But what constitutes the in-group? Obviously, by my experience, it isn’t, apparently, about the gods we worship. So what makes a “Pagan”? Where are the lines?

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        Where, indeed, are the lines?

        What unifies Kemetics, Hellenists, Wiccans, Druids and others as distinct from Christians, Jews, Hindus and others?

        If it is not religious ideologies, then Paganism, as a movement, needs to stop pretending it is a religious descriptor and look for something else.

        I see Pagans far more ready to talk politics (so long as they are the “right kind”) than theology. Is Paganism a political movement? If so, what political ideals does it hold to, and why does it try to use religious framework to discuss those ideals?

        Is it a theocracy – where it wants to weave politics and religion together?

        Once Paganism is defined to a level that allows people to understand it without reading a hundred dissertations on the matter, then people can start including and excluding, as appropriate.

        I’m not a Pagan, but I’d like to be friends with what I think Paganism is.

        • Henry Buchy

          you forgot to mention economic movement…

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            That’s just a form of politics, these days.

      • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

        “How about serial rapists? Should they be included or excluded in our
        communities, or is there a third possibility? What about prostitutes?
        Republicans? Democrats?”

        Yeah, see those are choices. Being excluded for voting Democrat isn’t the same thing as being excluded for my skin color or chromosome count. I never understood the point of excluding people by race or gender to show that excluding people by race and gender is wrong.

        “But what constitutes the in-group?”

        On a broad scale, it seems to consist mostly of non-mainstream religions (i.e. mainstream as in Big Three or Hinduism and to a certain extent Buddhism). On a finer point, it seems to be any earth-centered spirituality. Ironically, that would include the Amish.

        • Faoladh

          For myself, I just ask the questions. I don’t presume to know the answers (keep in mind that “New Age” spirituality has been defined as not Pagan, as again was my experience, so it can’t be just “non-mainstream” religions or even, I would argue, “earth-centered” religions, whatever that means in the first place, since it likely wouldn’t include some forms of heathenism, not to mention Thelema or the Sabaeans, all of which have been included under the “Pagan” rubric). That conversation is one which is ongoing, and needs to be so.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Before we can find the answers, I think that we need to find the right questions to ask..

  • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

    Reading these comments, it makes me wonder if anyone actually enjoyed going to Pantheacon. Why would anyone go if it is just a place to argue, exclude and disappoint? I am looking forward to the additional coverage from Jason to maybe hear something else.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      There will be a lot more writing to come, but I can say I had a good time. I can also attest to seeing hundreds of other people having a good time.

    • Merlyn7

      *Raises hand*

      I had a delightful time at Pantheacon. Some workshops or rituals are about weighing in on complex issues issues but there are nine other workshops you can attend instead during that session. It is your experience to sculpt as you like.

    • sln1987

      I had a lovely time at PantheaCon. I did not feel excluded from anything. People seemed to be happy about being able to hanging out with other pagans no matter what “type” of pagan they considered themselves. As Merlyn7 stated, if there was something that only allowed women, men, no open wounds or other sort of bleeding, etc. there were 9 other sessions to go to. Why waste your time and energy focusing on that one workshop and have it destroy your whole time there?

      • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

        “As Merlyn7 stated, if there was something that only allowed women, men,
        no open wounds or other sort of bleeding, etc. there were 9 other
        sessions to go to. Why waste your time and energy focusing on that one
        workshop and have it destroy your whole time there?”

        Yeah, and if you don’t want to own slaves, don’t get in the way of people who DO own slaves, right? I understand that you don’t care because it wasn’t focused on you, but unless the Con is open to *everyone* then it isn’t really open to anyone.

        • Merlyn7

          It’s very difficult to take your argument that Pantheacon should be more open seriously if you are comparing a 90 minute session to a system that enslaves human beings.

          Why not compare apples to apples? A few years ago, the community asked itself big questions about who could attend panels. “Men only” has become “Men and Trans Men.” This may not be open enough for you but can you agree that reflection progress has been made?

          You said earlier that you felt that as a straight, white male that there were places you were not welcome. There are no panels that were not open to people based on race or sexual orientation. There are panels that are interested in having a conversation about race in paganism – all were open to white people.

          • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

            “It’s very difficult to take your argument that Pantheacon should be more
            open seriously if you are comparing a 90 minute session to a system
            that enslaves human beings.”

            I didn’t “compare” them as if they were equivalent. I’m simply pointing out that turning a blind eye to prejudice and discrimination doesn’t make it okay. That’s like saying “Well yes, rape happens but if you don’t like rape then don’t get raped. There are nine other sexual activities you could do.”

            Are you starting to see the point here yet? Just walking away and pretending it doesn’t happen isn’t what got women the right to vote. Turning a blind eye didn’t free the slaves. Changing the channel didn’t legalize abortion. Seeing a pattern here?

            ” “Men only” has become “Men and Trans Men.” This may not be open enough
            for you but can you agree that reflection and progress has been made?”

            I have no idea if it’s “progress” to refine the methods of prejudice rather than eliminating prejudice entirely. This is why I quit going – I realized that PantheaCon is now about separation and victimhood, and I refuse to live my life by either of those. I’m not a victim, I don’t treat people differently, and I’ll be god damned if I’m going to pay the same price as everyone else just to be someone’s boogeyman.

          • kenofken

            Hell, I wouldn’t turn my back on a white guy….and I’m one of them! :) We’re not bad guys, really. People just need to learn to keep their guard up when we use certain phrases like “we’re here to help” or “we only need 100 acres” or “I’ll call you tomorrow”!

            Seriously though, I don’t know that seminars geared for specific groups, should be all that threatening. The critical distinction with the trans issue was not that women and men were having separate workshops. The problem was that people were using arbitrary and unscientific criteria to exclude people they felt were “not woman enough.”

          • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

            “Seriously though, I don’t know that seminars geared for specific groups, should be all that threatening.”

            We’re talking about two different things here, and apparently you have entirely the wrong idea about what I said. I’m FINE with having an event or workshop “geared for specific groups”. I practice Palo Kimbisa, something you don’t see a whole lot of white guys involved with, but if I went to a Con and they said “Hey, this is African magic practiced primarily by Cubans” that would be a VERY different thing from saying “Hey, this is African magic so beat it, honkey!”

            Do you see the difference? It’s fine to have a workshop geared toward a specific group, but it’s presumptive and arrogant to think that there aren’t any people outside that group who are capable of understanding or appreciating it.

            It’s not “threatening”, any more than it was “threatening” to have separate drinking fountains. It’s offensive, and dismissive, but not threatening.

          • kenofken

            That may be a discussion that needs to happen around the event organizers and formats if there are workshop leaders that encourage that sort of thing. It’s also part of a larger and mostly unresolved long-running debate in paganism about cultural appropriation, authenticity etc.

          • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

            “That may be a discussion that needs to happen around the event
            organizers and formats if there are workshop leaders that encourage that
            sort of thing.”

            Nobody cares. PantheaCon is what it is, and what it IS is a good business model that isn’t about to change.

            See, there are whole segments of the population that have been repeatedly told that they’re “victims” of someone else, no matter how well off they are personally, and being told this over and over has given them a victim mentality.

            What events like PantheaCon provide is a chance for THEM to slam the door in someone else’s face for once, and they’ll pay large amounts of money for that chance. It’s like a lot of modern markets, selling cultural identity to people who feel they have none, and giving them the chance to say that just this once, THEY’RE the ones better than someone else.

            Think of it as a country club – it’s no fun being a member unless you get to sneer at the people who aren’t allowed in. It’s big business these days, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the event organizers to suddenly flip flop on a cash cow that milks so well.

            “It’s also part of a larger and mostly unresolved long-running debate in paganism about cultural appropriation, authenticity etc.”

            I never really considered women to be a separate culture that men were “appropriating” simply by existing, and I’m not even going to touch on what “authentic” means in that context. Z was very vocal about what does and does not qualify as an “authentic woman”, which was pretty much the final straw for me at the Con, and I’m far from the only one.

    • Canu

      I had a wonderful time, enjoyed helping host a hospitality suite, attended interesting workshops and ritual, and did not experience Pantheacon as a place to principally argue, exclude, or disappoint. My personal experience was fun, hopeful, and full of calls to community service and for extending the celebration of our lovely diversity. We cannot avoid argument, exclusion, or disappointment, but we can face them, explore them, give them such issues the time and care they call for, and be mindful that they do not overwhelm the many other purposes of gathering in community. They are not really issues that have some general solution. They are part of the tides that will always affect us, and our capacity to deal with them is integral to our community health. I’m not waiting for Paganism to be defined with bright lines. I’m going to dance my part and hope to wander along the broad edges often enough to see how my path looks to others and to understand how to take their hand in respect if offered.

    • kenofken

      Sometimes arguing moves the ball forward in a movement. People, including our own, always say that pagans don’t stand for anything. We don’t do any serious thinking about theology. We aren’t willing to do the hard work of figuring out what we’re for rather than what we aren’t. Some of the strife at places like Pantheacon proves that accusation is not universally true.

      Take the transgender fracas of the year before last. Was that enjoyable? Surely not. But it kindled one of the most wide-ranging and spirited and thoughtful discussions we have had as a community on any issue since at least the Veteran’s grave marker issue. Pantheacon was the epicenter, but the community, if we dare call it that, took on an issue that we had good reason to avoid, and had tried to in years past.

      There was a lot of heat and hurt feelings, but some real and valuable thinking and discussion. I think we came to an excellent general consensus. We accomplished some real work toward defining what we are about, or at least in the main stream of who “we” are. That doesn’t mean that every pissing match and territory dispute is a great or worthwhile debate, but I think its safe to say that any worthwhile “con”, like all of the ancient gathering of clans, is not all about fun.

    • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

      “Why would anyone go if it is just a place to argue, exclude and disappoint?”

      Exactly why I don’t go.

      I was there for the first few years of PantheaCon and it was amazing. I loved all the workshops and vendors and got maybe twenty minutes of actual sleep, and made a ton of friends. This was before everyone decided it was the perfect forum to play the Victim Card and start having exclusionary space to look down on people.

      One of the things I *do* like about the later years though, was the advent of event tracks – I used to be really disappointed when two events I wanted to see were right across from each other on the schedule.

      • Deborah Bender

        The complete program schedule is still available for viewing and downloading at https://pantheacon.com/wordpress/at-pantheacon/whats-happening/program-guide/

        I invite anyone who wasn’t at the con to read the program and see for yourself what proportion of the events had restrictions on who could attend and what those restrictions were. The restrictions I noticed were 21-and-over, dress code, and two part workshops where you had to attend part one to get into part two. Most of the programs have no restrictions.

        You can also read the self-descriptions of the hospitality suites. There were 29 hospitality suites this year, representing well over that number of organizations since some suites were hosted by more than one group. I only dropped in on a couple of suites where I didn’t know anybody; I was made welcome in those suites.
        Suites are allowed to have some members-only activities but not all the time.

        • http://american-warlock.blogspot.com/ Wade Alan Long

          “The restrictions I noticed were 21-and-over, dress code, and two part
          workshops where you had to attend part one to get into part two. Most of
          the programs have no restrictions.”

          Except for gems like this one:

          ” a conscious decision by the organizers, this year we are limiting entry to the Caucus to those who identify as NONWHITE ONLY.”

          This is what I brought up when they first started, that deliberately setting up public areas for everyone except white people is offensive and dismissive. At the time the discussion started, I challenged everyone involved to describe how they would feel if someone set up events with a big sign saying WHITES ONLY.

          Nobody was able to answer that challenge, mostly because we all know exactly how well that would go over.

          Like i said, PantheaCon is a good business model. It gives professional victims a venue where they get to be the one slamming doors in other peoples’ faces for a weekend, so they can puff themselves up or get over their childhood trauma or whatever. I’m not faulting anyone for making money hosting an openly racist event.

          But I’ll be god damned if I pay the same price as everyone else just to be someone’s boogeyman and have doors slammed in my face.

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      *I* had a good time. I didn’t contribute as much service time to the NROOGD/CoG/NWC suite as I thought I would, but I did contribute some bottles that most might not have seen or tried before, as well as munchies (most healthier than not). Being from a middle-eastern family (mother’s side), I have this Thing about hospitality and the sacred bond between host and guest. If I have a problem with someone, I won’t eat food or drink offered me, because I don’t wish to have that bond between us.

      I made more of the sessions that I wanted to attend, than I passed on this year–and that was more programming than last year for me. I got to meet some of the Wild Hunt bloggers, putting voice to face-from-photos. While I managed to find P. Sufenas Virius Lupus behind me at the Morrigan ritual in dance, and we talked a bit, our paths did not cross the rest of the con, and thus, I was unable to redeem my promise, made here some months ago, to buy him a drink–or even share an amazing bottle of Islay singlemalt (Ardbeg Corryvreckan).

      As usual, there was a need to bilocate, a skill I have not learned, so I had to miss a few programs I would otherwise have attended. Of the three programs involving Turkey, I managed only the first, which while labelled as being about a personal encounter with Hecate in Anatolia (whence my mechanic hails), seemed more about connections with bees as symbols of the divine in both Crete and Anatolia, with the Minoan Snake Goddess and Hecate thus linked. Having an interest in both, I was quite happy.

      Saturday morning, I was again deferred from donating blood, due to a low hemocrit, in spite of taking iron supplement for two months or more. Must chat with my internist and endocrinologist.

      Saturday night, I saw some amazing dancers, of which the most amazing was Tempest, with her husband/musician, Nathaniel Johnstone. Neither dancer nor musician had rehearsed for the Morrigan ritual in dance & music. Not at all. I was blown away by the ritual, both dance and music. Rather than sitting relaxed as I often do for dance, I was rapt and focused, noting bits of music and dance as the power of each hit me. Then finding that they were unrehearsed but enmeshed in what the other was doing–oh, my! It was magical, and she *was* Raven and the Morrigan both. Now, I admit that I love watching her dance, and think she’s a fine teacher; that the first time I heard one of Nathaniel’s pieces choreography began running through my head (always a good sign!), but all that aside, it was jaw-droppingly awesome.

      Sunday, given that the Dark Ones: The Only Way Out Is Through was at 9pm, and as a member of Dark Forest coven, I was expected to be there, I ended up passing on most of the programs I would have attended so that I could EAT properly at a reasonable time. Between the run through ca. 5pm, wanting to join the Pagan Alliance’s Whisky tasting between 4-5pm, knowing how busy the coffeeshop could be, I chose to eat protein & vegetation at our Hospitality Suite, and get a regular meal after the run-through. I prefer not to drink on an empty stomach, as I get the hangover before I can get drunk. Ain’t it grand? I prefer to eat before any emotionally/spiritually intense//physically rigorous event requiring my participation so that I don’t cause or have problems because of low blood glucose.

      Our ritual went well, and several folk stayed to talk about how it affected them, with a few folk working together through some of it around the emptying room. I flaked shortly afterwards, for the night.

      Monday, I took my son home after breakfast, and returned, got involved in something (which of course I can’t remember) that kept me from making the beginning of Iron Priestess. I will make more effort should they do it again next year. Nice bit of laughter to finish out the con for me.

      I wished my favorite vendors (and anyone I knew had a long trip ahead of them) a safe and uneventful trip home.

      No, I don’t write short roundups. Never figured out how…

  • Obsidia

    For me, Pagan is the “default religion” of all Humans. All of our ancestors were Pagans. When children are not taught religion, they naturally build little altars, have relationships with Elementals an Spirits, respect “sacred space,” and perform Magick. Even when people are forced to give their energy to established religions, they fit Pagan practices into their life. Nobody is excluded. Ever.

    Instead of “inclusion” and “exclusion,” why not simply say “public” and “private.” ?

  • http://about.me/CosettePaneque Cosette Paneque

    Aw, I really missed being there. I look forward to hearing more.

  • Franklin_Evans

    A general set of comments inspired by some posts, no rebuttals intended… but if taken that way, I’m certainly open to questions or challenges.

    I feel full sympathy with the reaction of being excluded from certain events or programs. The primary example from my experiences is Goddess themed or focused events. I want to learn more about it from the source, from the women who live inside this, but being told my being male is a disqualification leaves me frustrated. If my gender is a source of conflict, how does excluding it (sometimes with hostility) address the reasons? Caveat: I will not impose myself on certain topic areas, such as sexual violence, unless invited. I can easily understand that part.

    I see much value in the posts by This Pagan. I assign a critical priority to voices being heard, no matter the topic, motivation or passion behind them. What I will not stay silent on is dismissal. If there is one thing we can agree to as common ground, it is our common humanity, and the value in civil dialogue that doesn’t lazily fall back on political correctness.

    When it comes to social structures, we do have a choice. Many of us see it as a restrictive choice because our spirituality generates knee-jerk reactions. But the choice does exist, and if we decide to engage the existing structures instead of trying to build (and sustain) our own, it deserves validation and respect.

    • kenofken

      There is a valid point in the exclusion concerns. I am, however, very leery of nursing a sense of grievance that “a white man can’t get a fair shake in this world”. That has led us to some very dark places in history, and some instincts within fringes of the pagan community few of us want to lend strength to.

      • Franklin_Evans

        Indeed, I not only agree with criticizing the grievance, I embrace a firm rebuttal to it. However, context is very important, and finding the motivations behind the grievance can be critical to the debate.

        At the conference level, a firm and clear set of ground rules need to be in place. Being granted space, for whatever purpose, should not be license to ignore the ground rules. Vague ground rules just make it worse, and savvy organizers need to think it all through ahead of time and have clear responses to attempts to hijack space.

        I’m not sure we know Wade’s motivations clearly. I’d ask him to clarify, though his passionate expressions so far should also give us pause. I won’t speculate with “if” statements, but it would be valuable to this discussion if he should decide to share his motivations.

        We cannot just blithely assume, in his case or any case, what the motivations are, let alone use those assumptions to jump to conclusions in favor or against.

        I will offer one personal perspective, from professional experience around Affirmative Action and other employment legislation: attempts to level the playing field work only if those who want to “game” the attempts in order to maintain their privilege are slapped down immediately. That’s why AA has worked so poorly so far, gamers were given free rein. The principle is sound, but the application has been flawed from the beginning.

        Take that, as you wish, as an analogy for Pantheacon. We can find agreement on the general principles behind it, and still criticize how they’ve been applied in certain circumstances.