CALGARY, Alb. – The Canadian National Pagan Conference (CNPC) Gaia Gathering celebrated a successful event in Calgary, Alberta over the Victoria Day long weekend May 19-22. The theme for this year’s conference was “Rhythm and Flow” and featured speakers not only from the Calgary area, but also across Canada as well.
The genesis of this event came as a comment, made by Richard James of the Wiccan Church of Canada. In a post made to an email list maintained by the Pagan Federation Païenne Canada (PFPC), James asked: “Could it be that Canada is ready for a national Pagan conference?”
His question inspired two community leaders, Gina Ellis and Kit Morrison, to put the wheels in motion for the first Gaia Gathering (GG), which took place in 2004 in Edmonton.
One of the unique aspects of this conference is that each edition is hosted in a different Canadian city by a different host committee. Since that first year in Edmonton, Gaia Gathering has traveled from coast to coast, stopping in Halifax, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Gatineau.
The organization is incorporated federally as a non-profit and operated by a national Board of Directors composed of Pagans of many paths. Anyone who pays for a weekend pass becomes a member of the organization, and is encouraged to attend the annual AGM, which traditionally occurs on the last day of the conference. New board members are voted in at this meeting and organizational decisions are made.
The AGM is also an opportunity for future host cities to present their bids to hold the next conference, in a process similar to the bidding process used by the Olympic games.
Staging a national conference is no small task. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Gaia Gathering Board Chair Jennifer Taylor explained: “Gaia Gathering 2017 was the result of an average of 500 volunteer hours per person over the two-year period it took to select, award and organize the event.”
In past years, the board has overseen the event from afar, while only the host committee was on the ground, in the host city. But 2017 was different: “This year’s event was unique in that both the National board chair and the local Committee were based in Calgary. This allowed for a truly collaborative approach for all the tactical and visionary details that it took to pull off what turned out of be an amazing event.” said Taylor.
Gaia Gathering 2017 featured two keynote speakers, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch PhD, who presented her keynote address “Energy Work Across Traditions: From Drawing Down to Altered States,” and also JD “Hobbes” Hickey who incorporated this years conference theme “Rhythm and Flow” into his address, titled “Adapting to the Rhythm and Flow of Community Evolution as Leaders”.
“I was incredibly honored to not only be asked to be a Keynote Speaker, but to share Keynote billing with the brilliant Shelley Rabinovitch” said Hickey in correspondence to The Wild Hunt
“I was also flabbergasted and felt completely unqualified to speak at such a prestigious event.”
He went on to explain that it turned out well, in the end: “After weeks of worrying about it, my Keynote Address on the evolution of Pagan communities was very well received and the people seemed to be able to draw new ideas and energy from it.”
Hickey, who hails from Montreal, and was part of the host committee and team of presenters when the 2011 edition of Gaia Gathering was held there. He also enjoys the perspective that comes with travelling to the conference.
“I had attended Gaia Gathering when it was in Edmonton, so Calgary gave me the chance to not only explore a new city, but to reconnect with the Pagans in the western provinces. The workshops and panel discussions were very well presented and I felt that the western perspective provided new insights in our ever-evolving Neo-Pagan culture.”
Historically, Gaia Gathering has been an opportunity for newer Pagans to merge into the greater Pagan community, and as Taylor explains, 2017 had the same effect.
“What I found most interesting about GG 2017 was that over 50% of the attendees were new to Paganism and it was their first time at a spiritual conference,” explained Taylor. “When I talked to these new folks the common theme was that they wanted to connect to their new found spiritual tribe and they felt that having a ‘one stop shop’ so to speak with many paths, elders and experts in one place allowed them that connection they needed.”
Taking time to participate in the programming is not always easy for event organizers, but Taylor was able to make time to present a panel discussion on a topic dear to her heart.
“A personal highlight for me was the coming together spiritually and physically of Elders that previously felt isolated, unwanted and disconnected. Several elders joined together on a panel called the changing face of pagan Leadership based on my paper. In this panel they discussed their feelings of being marginalized and their community being fractured, they were heartfelt and hopeful that things would change.”
This panel ended on an encouraging note, as Taylor concludes: “By the end of GG there has been emails and FB commitments for gathering together to heal. This wonderful by product of GG was a both a surprise and a gift.”
Given the challenges of a huge country, with a scattered and low population, hosting a nomadic Pagan conference has not been easy, but Gaia Gathering has persevered, nonetheless. It is still a small event, but one that has attracted a loyal group of regular attendees and curious newcomers.
In her Facebook announcement after the close of the conference, Taylor declared the event a success, stating that “With the AGM this morning we shared that it was profitable (more specifics later this week), that we had 71 people attend with 55 of those being weekend passes and the feedback from the membership was extremely positive.”
As of the end of the AGM, there were no bids for the next conference to be held in 2019. The Board of Directors will be open to receiving bids from potential host cities in the coming months.