Archives For Pantheacon

Column: Abrázame

Manny Tejeda-Moreno —  February 5, 2016 — 11 Comments

We have a hugging problem, and it is probably not the one you think.

First, I am not going to go on about the benefits of hugging here, and there are many. But, my original article for this month was derailed yesterday when I noticed the creation of a new set of hugging ribbons for Pantheacon.

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[Courtesy Free Hugs / Wikipedia]

These ribbons offer a gradation of interpersonal hug-comfort from “No Touchy!!!” to “Ask First!!!” to “Hugs are like Oxygen!!!” The intent to underscore the importance of consent is an outstanding idea. Reinforcing the urgency of consent will help individuals who are uncomfortable with certain levels of social expression to make others aware of that fact. Some people are uncomfortable being assertive and others have a real psychological (haphephobia or aphenphosmphobia) or physical (dysesthesia) challenge that make hugging problematic and even painful. Some people have faith traditions forbidding interpersonal contact with strangers of opposite sex. Some people are not neurotypical; some might be pregnant. And others may have experienced sexual or interpersonal violence in their past, which makes intimate contact difficult if not impossible. These individuals command our support.

And some may just not like hugs. It’s all good.

The intent of the ribbons is to help people proclaim a desire to maintain a wide personal touch space for any of those reasons. This underscores why these ribbons are a good idea. Their use is also optional.  So – and this is particularly important – those motivated to use these ribbons will likely have a vital reason for adopting them. Moreover, I would put my hand in a raging fire to affirm that these ribbons were never created with any other intent than to help people.

I am, however, skeptical that they will help. Not only will the ribbons be in a sea of other ones; their use makes a critical assumption about the reader. For those who behave inappropriately, are ill-mannered or simply interpersonally violent, the presumption of the ribbons is that those guests will have the wherewithal to review and respect the ribbons before approaching with a hug or a touch. It’s a stretch in my mind, but still it’s all good.

But here’s the thing. They are also disappointingly Anglocentric and accidentally enabling ethnocentrism. I get the fact that this is not the intent. But as a Latino member of our society, my first reaction was, “so you want me to act like an Anglo?” Let me just repeat what I wrote before: I get the fact that this is not the intent.  But the focus on salutation behavior and the added exclamation points to emphasize greeting expectations convey an unintended message about what is an appropriate means of greeting others. The greeting distance and the behavioral expectations are subtly centered on northern European/Anglo expectations. But, appropriate greeting – in the greater scheme of things – is not that, nor is it standard American.

I have difficulty navigating around the fact that, while I understand that my culture has vastly different rules about interpersonal space and the importance of touch, these ribbons promote a secondary message that subordinates how many people I know – including myself –- greet one another. Hugging and cheek-kissing – or a combo maneuver of both of them including the air kiss – is the standard greeting for more than two billion people who are not part of the Anglosphere. Some 50 million of whom live within the US; which, by the way, makes United States the second-largest Spanish-speaking Latino nation in the world exceeding the population of Spain and surpassed only by Mexico.

The gesture of cheek-kissing, often with a hug, is the de facto greeting in Latin America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean nations. It has also become – as Time magazine noted in 2004 – a common greeting in the larger cities of the United States: that’s code for foreign, specifically Latin American. Among Latinos, cheek kissing and hugging is a universal form of greeting, even between heterosexual men.

The counterpole to these behaviors is the Victorian salutation etiquette, which continues to pervade our collective culture and, more insidiously, presents itself as the authority on expectations of proper behavior. Greetings – as still expected in parts of the United Kingdom – should be light handshakes at a distance. And this has a powerful cultural effect. It identifies how “proper” people interact and codes what is elegant, classy and cultured, while also highlighting who is uncultured, uneducated and uncouth. It lays out our roles in interpersonal behavior, guiding us to accept Anglo behavior as normative. You might even say there is a craving for it because there is a palpable pining among some people for the good old days of Downton Abbey, minus the classism. The reflected behaviors of etiquette are often seen as quaint, and when they are violated by those not of the right class or culture, it evokes Sarah Miller’s famous speech in Addams Family Values: “Remember, these savages are our guests. We must not be surprised at any of their strange customs. After all, they have not had our advantages, such as fine schools, libraries full of books, shampoo.”

[Courtesy PROMetropolico.org / Flickr.org]

[Courtesy PROMetropolico.org / Flickr.org]

It’s an issue, because this “quaintness” hides the bigotry. Chatham House recently surveyed British men and women asking them which countries they had good feelings about. They reported most favorable feelings toward Australia and Canada, followed by the United States, which tied with the Netherlands and then Sweden. There’s another code there, too. The countries of greatest comfort are more fluent in English. Not only that, there is another active code here, as they report, that the USA is moving linguistically, culturally and politically more toward Latin America. And those survey participants are echoing that shift as increasing discomfort with United States.

There’s nothing like having codes that tell us who is the “in-group.” At an unconscious level, we are all looking for in-group codes that allow us to discriminate among individuals and identify who we can trust. Intentionally or otherwise, we broadcast those codes not only to reinforce the dominant culture, but also to remind the “out-group” how its members are expected to behave in the presence of the majority. That anticipation of behavior, that reminding of how we should act, and those gentle cues to assimilate are nothing less than the arsenal of cultural warfare.

Cultural dominance coding is a dangerous game that can easily and elusively slip into racial segregation, social exclusion, and cultural assimilation. It often moves unnoticed, but with surgical effect. It can combine the tools of politics and economics to create an underclass of individuals who fail to “pass” for those in power. And we promote that cultural dominance coding in many ways that range from the grotesque to the subtle. The English-only movement that occasionally rears its head is little more than an attempt at linguistic domination. I’ll leave that as the grotesque example.

More subtly, we use mimicry and humor in combination to marginalize non-English languages as somehow inferior. Mock Spanish is such an example. Terms like “no problemo,” “hasta la vista, Baby,” or “buenos nachos” create a palimpsest of humor over racist language to disguise the latter. We see a different form of linguistic domination in the absurd belief that English is universally intelligible if spoken slowly and loudly.

We also make ignorant claims about culture and language. I remember one conversation many years ago with a colleague who was 30 years my senior. He was an educated engineer who held multiple biotech patents and even served in an organization to promote inter-cultural dialogue. Yet he explained to me how English will one day become the only language on the planet because it has an inherent economy of word use. His reasoning was that, in English, the possessive is created with the “apostrophe s” instead of the word “of.” Therefore Spanish, German and Chinese speakers, among others, would abandon their languages to adopt a quicker way of expressing ownership.

Now you may read this and laugh, but he was serious. To this day, I have yet to figure out how much time I have saved using the English possessive. And by the way, to add some more perspective, when I asked him if he spoke other languages, he answered, “No.” He spoke only English because his parents had warned him that learning Spanish might damage his natural intellect. He told his children to go to a college that didn’t require a second language or else he wouldn’t pay their tuition. But he liked Cuban food, so, as he explained, he wasn’t a racist.

By contrast, multiculturalism invites minorities to become visible while retaining their culture. It attempts to weave that culture into a mosaic where no culture remains dominant and all cultures are respected. It’s a utopic model whose origins are both in American and Canadian political philosophies, most prominently emerging from the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

As a society, we’re not there yet. Though I will state with some personal bias and only anecdotal evidence that Pagans seem to be among those most committed to multicultural values. Yet, we still have our moments of tribalism. We often presume English. We’re surprised by Latina Heathens and White Nebraskan Santeros. We’re disappointed, even stressed when our cultural cookie-cutter doesn’t behave like we want it to. But most of us also do not shy away from the difficult dialogues that allows us to strengthen our community with that cultural mosaic.

Pagans are the vanguard of multiculturalism and acceptance. I remember reading an observation by Alvin Schmidt the author of The Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America (1997) that Pagans represent the worst of the lot because we have revived pantheism in such dastardly films as Pocahontas (1995) and The Lion King (1994). Not just that, we unleashed even more heresy. Our multicultural beliefs were destroying the Judeo-Christian components of Euro-American culture and “endangering America’s soul.”

Y’all are awesome. And he is right, in a way. Pagans generally reject oppression and celebrate difference. We have lived as the oppressed and the reviled, often worship and congregate in secret and our sensibilities have been honed to recognize persecution. Neopaganism has grown in parallel to and in support of the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. We recognize how cultural domination works, and we have become a bulwark against it.

Now back to those ribbons.The real issues here are manners and fear.

First, it is sad that we need those ribbons. Those of us from cultural backgrounds where interpersonal touching is normative are taught to carefully read body language indicating discomfort, and then unwaveringly apologize should we misread it. I and other Latinos were taught some very simple rules about hugging and kissing that I think remain important during first contact, or any contact.

  1. Don’t kiss or hug strangers.
  2. If you just met, no hugs or kisses. Unless you ask if it’s okay to hug or kiss.
  3. If you’re not sure, let the other person lead.
  4. If the other person says no, they mean it. You’re not entitled to a kiss or hug. Get over it.
  5. All hands above the waist at all times.
  6. No lingering.
  7. No saliva.

Did I really have to list those? We add for other Latinos, air kiss people you know; air kiss plus hug people you know well. That’s it. Culture and consent together.

Second is the fear part. As a community, we know fear offers nothing. And we know fear is the tool of oppressors. So, there must be no tolerance, no apologies and no succor for abusers. Period.

None of us should live in fear. And all of us should live in choice. Period.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum has announced that he will be awarded the 2016 Ralph Bunche Medal For Peace by the International Human Rights Consortium. He will be receiving the medal at the UN’s Commission for the Status for Women held in March. McCollum explained that the Peace Medal was named after Ralph Johnson Bunche, who was “an American political scientist, academic, and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Israel.”  It was designed and sculpted by Alex Shagin, the world-renowned metal sculptor and coin designer best known for designing Olympic medals and other similar items.

In his announcement, McCollum also said that he will be the last recipient of the award and that he is thankful to “the many friends and colleagues who have supported and encouraged [his] work for World Peace over the years.” He added, “I share the honor of this award with all of you.” McCollum also said that the collective work done by himself and many others in Pagan communities around the world has “shifted the consciousness of people across the planet toward a more peaceful and sustainable future.” Now he asks that people join him in raising “the status of women” and creating a world that “we can be proud of.”

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pfiua-624x624It has been recently made public that the head of the Pagan Federation International – Ukraine is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her condition has gotten worse. In early January, Fialkora Mykytenko was hospitalized and has remained there. According to several announcements, Mykytenko is undergoing extensive and regular treatments. Her community has reached out to the extended family of PFI members and Pagan practitioners for both emotional, practical and financial support.

The Pagan Federation International (PFI) is an organization made up of small satellite groups throughout the world, from France to the Philippines. It shares a “common heritage” with the UK-based Pagan Federation, which “was founded in 1971 to provide information on Paganism and to counter misconceptions about the religion.” Mykytenko is the National Coordinator for the Ukraine branch, based in Kiev. PFI members are posting updates on her condition on both the PFI – Urkaine website and in the Russian-based social media outlet VK.

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The Mills College Pagan Alliance (MCPA) has run into a very unfortunate situation. The college had to cancel its “special request funding” due to an unforeseen and undisclosed circumstance. This decision has left a number of student groups, who were depending on these special funds, in quite a bind. The Mills College Pagan Alliance is one of them.The group was depending on the special request funds to host its suite and two other guest rooms at PantheaCon 2016.

The MCPA suite caters specifically to college-age Pagans, offering a safe space for discussion and expression. Unique to this year, the group was was offering a special talk by Mills College alumna Diana Paxson. In addition, the MCPA suite and two other rooms play host to a number of the attending Pagan students, who otherwise cannot afford a hotel room on their own. As of now, there are ten students scheduled to take advantage of this opportunity. Member Kristen Oliver said that attending PantheaCon is important for many of these students as it provides a unique environment to “develop their leadership skills in the Pagan community.”

When MCPA organizers found out that the funds had been revoked, they immediately held an emergency meeting and have decided to launch a crowd funding campaign Monday, Feb. 1 to pay for the three spaces. The organizers are currently working on the campaign. Oliver said, “[The college] feels pretty bad about the whole thing,” and she stressed that MCPA was not the only group affected. Additionally, she is currently in talks with the administration to see “if there is any other source [she] can tap.” For an update on the situation and the campaign, visit the MCPA Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Every wonder what it takes to keep The Wild Hunt going? Or maybe you’d like to talk to one of our regular writers or learn what’s on our drawing board for 2016? The Wild Hunt will be hosting a meet-and-greet at PantheaCon in the Hexenfest suite on Saturday from 5-6 pm. There you will have a chance to talk to several of our columnists, including Crystal Blanton, Alley Valkyrie, and Heathen Chinese, as well as our new strategic planning director, Yeshe Matthews. And if you miss that or won’t be attending PantheaCon, we will also be doing another social event and a formal “Meet the Wild Hunt” panel at Paganicon in March. Attending that event will be writers Cara Schulz, Crystal Blanton, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Dodie Graham McKay, and editors Terence P. Ward and Heather Greene. We look forward to seeing everyone come out to these events to talk Pagan news, journalism or just to say ‘hello.’
  • Three Drops from the Cauldron has announced that it will be putting together and publishing a paperback anthology of “the best writing [they] receive on witches, rituals, and spells.” The title and release date are still to be decided. However, they are currently calling for submissions. The editors included the following suggestions for topic ideas: “Pagan rites. Magic. Hecate, Morgan le Fay, Rhiannon, Cerridwen, Circe, Medea, Mother Shipton, Salem, Pendle. Gingerbread and poisoned apples. A hut with chicken legs. The full moon, wise crones, rare beauty. Black cat familiars.” The submission deadline is Sunday May 29. For more information, go to their website.
  • A new subtitled version of the documentary Heksen in Holland (Witches in Holland) has been created, offering both Spanish and English subtitles. This new version will include a booklet filled with articles and interviews translated into English. As described on the site, the documentary, which was produced by Silver Circle, depicts a “journey through the wheel of the year and 35 years of Wicca in the Netherlands.” It features interviews with a number of witches including” Morgana, Jana, Nemain, Lady Bara, Joke & Ko, Mae, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Geraldine Besken, and Gwiddon Harveston. The subtitled film will be available for purchase soon through the Silver Circle webshop. The original version, with no subtitles, is currently available for purchase.

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  • Air n-Aithesc has published its Imbolc edition. Air n-Aithesc: Our Message,is a “peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.” The magazine’s first issue was published in February 2014. Back Issues, as well as the current one, are available digitally through its website.
  • Rhyd Wildermuth’s new book A Kindness of Ravens was released today.The book “is a collection of forest-edged words arrayed against the theft of meaning and the death of dreams.” The contents are pulled from a number of sites that host Wildermuth’s work. It is available through Lulu.com or digitally through Gumroad.com.

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[Pixabay.com]

For many people January symbolizes the start of one of the busiest times of the year. It is the start of the New Year, post holiday detox time, and a time for goal setting and planning. It is also during this month that PantheaCon preparation kicks into high gear for many people, and the count down to the mid-February convention begins. PantheaCon, a Pan-Pagan convention, consistently draws between 2,000 and 3,000 participants a year to San Jose, California for four days of non-stop magic, music, shopping and fun.

It is at this time we see fundraising requests for hospitality suites, Facebook invites for workshops, and an increasing number of updates from the PantheaCon staff as the date gets closer. PantheaCon continues to be one of the largest and biggest Pagan conventions to date, and one of the few events that pulls people from all over the United States.

I have personally come to acknowledge this time as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, one that has become a part of my regular routine every year. There is a sense of nostalgia in the spiral circles on the hotel carpet, the tingling of magic in the air, and the anticipation of friends old and new, all of which bring me back every year with a sense of anticipation and wonder. I imagine that these are many of the same things that bring others from across the country to the little old Doubletree Hotel in San Jose.

The 30 day countdown for PantheaCon has already begun – four days with 223 presenter slots and lot of talk about change makers in our community. What is different this year? Who is coming? What workshops to go to? How much is parking? What food are you taking to save costs? Did you get a room in the Doubletree? What time does your flight get in? Wanna have a drink? What kind of wares will there be in the vending room? How much money do I need? What hospitality suites are coming back this year? How will I decide what to go to?

These are all common questions heard during the PantheaCon countdown; all questions that will continue to float around social media until the day that the doors open.

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

What exactly continues to draw people to this convention every year varies from person to person, but it is clear that everyone is looking for some particular experience that they hope to find in the halls of the con. For some people it is the perfect place for networking, while for others it is a place of magical experience. Authors, artists and musicians come to share their work, and healers come to heal. Priestesses and priests come to present rituals, and plenty of others come to simply find community.

This year PantheaCon promises some new presenters, a new theme, and new opportunities to network and have fun. I reached out into the community to ask what is everyone is looking forward to this year.

This year, I’m looking forward to getting to know people. Most cons I fly under the radar, but this year I am presenting on a tough topic (divorce) and I’ve just published two more books so I’m going to be putting myself out there to meet people. I have social anxiety, so that’s not easy for me, but I am going to make myself do it! Also, it helps that there is usually absinthe. Last year I mostly went for the absinthe.  – Diana Rajchel

Pantheacon is always a high point in my year with its four days dedicated to ritual, pageantry, and revelry. This year I am thrilled to be included in the cast of Golden Gate Kindred’s Lokasenna ritual drama on Sunday night. But more than the programs or frippery (much as I love donning my corsets), Pantheacon has become much more about the connections and conversations I explore there. In the past several years, conversations at Pcon have paved the way for social justice work, deepening my practice, and important personal relationships. I am certain this year will yield the same. – Nathania Apple

 I am looking forward to seeing old friends and finally meeting face to face with folks I have only known online like Crystal Blanton. – Katrina Messenger

I was so disappointed when I had to cancel at the last minute last year so I’m especially excited to be back.  I’m looking forward to meeting new people, talking about my books, and finally getting around to presenting that workshop.  I’m also looking forward to checking in with all the folks who sent energy to me in the last year and saying THANK YOU! – Lisa Spiral

I look forward to attending many of the panels and big rituals. I choose panels on topics I know little about, to gain more knowledge of how others interact with the divine. And the big rituals I go to mainly because they seem fun. It’s also a time where I feel I am among similarly minded folks. – Akasha

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Every year About this time I start getting ready for PantheaCon. I eagerly look forward seeing friends from far away that I don’t get to see often and just feel the energy of place that exists when we are all gathered together. That energy, that spirit has been one of the touchstones of my year for quite awhile now.

There are presenters, teachers really, that come every year I look forward to of course, but this year there are new people I’m excited about – Tommie StarChild, Lora O’Brien, Lasara Firefox Allen, Byron Ballard.  I’m also looking forward to how the conversations on social justice continue.  There has been great work at the conference over the last few years, not always comfortable, but extremely important.

I go through the program book in the weeks leading up to PCon, work out how which events I’m going to, there is so much on the schedule and in the suites there is always way more I want to do than is physically possible. The first couple of years I went I tried to do all the things.  Now I usually have one or two must-be-there’s and the rest of the convention I ride the wave of that energy we have all raised by our presence and let spirit guide me.  

This year the must-be-there for me is the Ole Time Good Spell Feri Pagan Tent Revival.  In keeping with the conference theme of “Change”, it’s title is “Changes – Turn and Face the Strange”.  I’m not going to miss this one.  I may cry, but I’m not going to miss it. – Jo Lynx

PantheaCon is a time of community, connection and service for the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood. We’re fortunate to be hosting the Temple of the Morrigan and the Blood Heroes blood drive for the third year in a row. We’ve received such an outpouring from attendees for these endeavors. We’re really looking forward to providing hospitality and a place for religious devotion to attendees again this year. This type of community service is both a joy and a sacred duty for us. – Rynn Fox, Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood

These last days leading to the conference mean a lot of preparation, solidifying travel plans, creative food shopping, and lots of wardrobe practicing. One of the largest draws of this event is the ability to experience a lot of things in one place, meet different types of people, and have fun among other Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists.

[Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

San Jose, California [Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

Personally, I am really excited for the new presenters this year and learning some new chants. Most of all, I always look forward to spending time with friends that I don’t get to see often and meeting new people in person that I have only known online.

In the preparation for PantheaCon there are many things to consider. My personal list of tips for anyone who will be coming for the first time would include:

  • Bring multiple outfits, some comfortable and some fancy, so that you can change when needed.
  • Bring snacks and some easy meals to eat in order to reduce costs and save you from having every meal in the restaurant.
  • Bring what you need to help you sleep. The energy in the building makes it difficult.
  • Pace yourself; things will get hectic.
  • Schedule time to socialize and shop.
  • Shop during workshops. It is gets busy during lunch, dinner or breaks.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Make sure to have a plan.
  • Spend time going over the program online, and picking out what you are interested in by using the online tool.
  • Be flexible; things change easily.
  • Don’t forget the hospitality suites; they are pretty awesome.
  • Bring your own coffee. The coffee in the room is not that great, and the Starbucks line gets very long in the morning.
  • Make sure to have some cash on you for vendors.

The countdown to PantheaCon can be hectic, but the reward is always a good time. Hope to see you there.

PantheaCon
February 11th – 15th, 2016
Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California
Theme: Change Makers

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

[Columnist Eric O. Scott is one of our talented monthly columnists and the creator of the Viking Panda. If you enjoy reading his work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive and help us to bring you daily news and commentary. We are completely reader-funded, so it is you that makes it all possible!  And, if you do contribute at the correct level, you will receive your very own Eric Scott Viking Panda drawing. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

Your author is supposed to get through all of these books by December. Gulp. (Photo by the author.)

Your author is supposed to get through all of these books by December. Gulp.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

I have a special bookcase in my office, completely filled with the books I am reading to prepare for my comprehensive examinations later this year. Comps, which a friend of mine describes as “academia’s last accepted form of hazing,” are a year-long process in my program, in which students create a long list of books on certain themes, then write and defend essays based on those books. I have, as a result, been throat-deep in reading, focusing mainly on religious memoirs, the autobiographical accounts of individuals and their relationships to whatever they conceive of as Divine. These accounts break down, at least in my schema, into two kinds of work, the placed and the unplaced – those works in which the author’s experience of being in a certain location drives the text, and those more ephemeral narratives that worry less about the world around the author and more about the world within. Among the “placed” narratives, pilgrimage narratives grab my attention the most – stories of people who have traveled to distant lands in the name of their religion.

To read these pilgrim tales, especially those from the classical and medieval periods, is to be drawn into a foreign world where such travel was rare, expensive, and dangerous. It seems that every medieval expedition to Jerusalem involved at least one pirate attack, forcing even pacifists like the Franciscan friar Niccolo da Poggionsi to take up crossbows in self-defense. The ocean and the desert constantly threaten to devour those souls who attempt to cross them; while the autobiographers obviously survive to tell their tales, one has to wonder how many failed.

One thing that these old texts seem to lack, however, is a sense of personal revelation upon reaching the destination. Niccolo’s account of his pilgrimage, for example, stops using the first person voice entirely once he reaches the Holy Land, even though he uses it to describe his voyage in moving and dramatic detail. Consider his description of the Garden of Gethsemane:

On the road that leads up to Mount Olivet, you find on the right a piece of a wall and you enter a small plain, kept like a garden with trees. This place is called the flowery garden, in which Christ was arrested, and by Judas Iscariot betrayed. And here the Apostles slept when Christ prayed to his Father. And here was raised a church, which is now in ruins, and there are two big stones; and it is said that in that place Christ will stand with all his Apostles, to judge the just and the unjust; therefore the pilgrims pass the place on the right and say: Jesus Christ, make me stand on this side, me and my relatives. In this garden there is an indulgence of VII years. 

To my modern eyes, this seems like such a strange passage. Niccolo is writing about one of the most important places in his religion – the garden in which Jesus was turned over to the Roman authorities, directly leading to the Crucifixion. Yet there is no portion of his commentary that focuses on his own emotional experience of being in the place where his god once stood, no sense of awe, or wonder, or disillusionment. And this is the case with all of these older pilgrimage accounts, too; for some reason, the Holy Land does not bring out the kind of enthusiasm one might expect from someone devoted enough to risk their life to visit. In some cases, we have nothing more gripping than a list of room measurements and the number of years one might be able to shave off of Purgatory. It’s not until quite recently – the 18th and 19th centuries, as best as I can tell – that the personal sentiments of the author begin to get expressed. Even in The Innocents Abroad, one of Mark Twain’s lesser-known books, wherein Twain goes on a “pleasure cruise” to the Holy Land with a group of other Americans (the “innocents” of the title), much of the text reads like a scoffing guidebook. Yet we begin to find passages like this one, a reflection Twain makes just after finally arriving in the Holy Land:

We do not think, in the holy places; we think in bed, afterward, when the glare, and the noise, and the confusion are gone, and in fancy we revisit alone the solemn monuments of the past, and summon the phantom pageants of an age that has passed away.

Þingvellir, Iceland. (Photo by the author.)

Þingvellir, Iceland.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

Because I am studying religious autobiographies from the western tradition, the majority of my authors are European or American Christians. But they remain fascinating to me, in part because they form the context for what pilgrimage might mean in modern Paganism. There has been some scholarship on this topic – Kathryn Rountree has written about Goddess worship pilgrimages to Greece, for example, and Jenny Blain’s Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights project has explored British Heathenry’s relationship to place – but in many ways Pagans are still figuring out what exactly religious travel looks like, and what it means to our religious practices.

Take, for example, the impact of history on the significance of a pilgrimage site. Twain’s quote takes it as a given that a “holy place” must, by definition, evoke those “phantom pageants of an age that has passed away.” And indeed, in the Abrahamic milieu in which The Innocents Abroad takes place, that statement rings true. It is also true in some cases for modern Pagans – Rountree’s Goddess worshippers visit neolithic sites in order to connect with a “deep past” that doesn’t seem to exist in their own back yards, and, in my own experience, part of the majesty of seeing Þingvellir for the first time came from how important that place was to the Heathens who settled Iceland. But the most common kind of pilgrimage undertaken by modern Pagans, at least in the United States, is to places like the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose or my own beloved Gaea Retreat in Maclouth, Kansas – sites of living, vibrant religious festivals, places where the concern is on the here and now, not the “solemn monuments of the past.” And in the place of Niccolo’s impersonal descriptions of Biblical sites, we now have a Pagan internet full of personal reactions and experiences, the emotional intimacy of which would shock the autobiographers of old.

The Forn Halr altar at Gaea Retreat. Photo by the author.

The Forn Halr altar at Gaea Retreat.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

As both academic and adherent, I love to ponder the ways we, still living in the young days of these religious movements, define the terms of our faith. Pilgrimage – the idea of travel motivated by religion – is one of those big ideas whose contours we’re all still feeling out. We haven’t yet thrown up the guideposts that many other religions have; as with many things in Paganism, we’re often making it up as we go along. As I read through these stacks of dead men’s travels, I can’t help but wonder how readers in the ages to come will respond to our own accounts, and what kinds of traditions we will ultimately leave behind us.

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[Editor’s Note: Before continuing with our regularly scheduled story, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many victims of the Saturday’s Earthquake in Nepal. The Wild Hunt has reached out to Pagans in South East Asia and to first responders. In the coming days, we will be sharing what we learn and the various ways to assist those victims.]

OAKLAND, California – On April 23, Mills Pagan Alliance of Mills College was presented with the Student Organization of the Year Award. The annual recognition honors an “organization that has demonstrated through their events and activities, outstanding collaboration and dedication to educating the Mills and broader community.” This marks the first time that the Pagan organization has won the award, and been publicly recognized by the college.

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

On hand to accept the award were co-founders Kristin Oliver, Rose Quartz and Sasha Reed and member Nikka Tahan. Oliver said:

This award says that the Mills community is a place where Pagans can practice and thrive openly, a place where Pagans at Mills are respected and admired, and where Pagans are known as community leaders. For us, it means that what we do matters. What we say matters.

She added, “We won because of the leadership we demonstrated in the aftermath of losing the campus chaplain. In her absence (and we still don’t have a school chaplain) we played a huge role in keeping spirituality alive and present for all faiths for this entire year.”

Before this school year, the Alliance founders had already been demonstrating strong community leadership. Oliver said that in past years Mills College only had dormant or “defunct” Pagan club. Like at many schools, the viability of the student club is wholly dependent on the eagerness of its members. Often, when the founders and other invested members graduate, the club falters or completely dissolves.

In 2013, one of the college chaplains approached Oliver, asking if she would like to help lead the club with Quartz and Reed. She agreed, as did the others. So, in an attempt to breathe life back into the old organization, they changed the club’s name to the Mills Pagan Alliance and immediately began working to connect with the community.

At the first meeting, they asked attendees “What do you want out of this club?” The answer was unanimously, “We want to learn.” Since 2013, the Alliance has built a small Pagan library with donations from many in the Bay Area. It regularly brings in local speakers, such as Rev. Patrick McCollum, Sharon Knight, Timotha Doane, Violet Fortuna, Moonwater SilverClaw, Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and Granny Greenleaf. And, the club hosts a number of campus events throughout the year. One of the first was a Samhain ritual that was held right in college’s chapel.

In 2014, Rev. Patrick McCollum turned to the Mills Pagan Alliance to find a student interested in accompanying him to the United Nations International Peace Day events in New York City. Then junior Rowan Weir was selected and became a U.N. Pagan youth delegate. As a regular guest of the club, Rev. McCollum also has brought his World Peace violin to meetings and even allowed Reed to play it.

In addition to events and guests, the Pagan Alliance has also begun reaching out beyond the college campus. For example, the group was actively in attendance at PantheaCon 2015 in San Jose. Members assisted Rev. Selena Fox with her Brigid Healing Ritual and were vocal during the Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change panel. During that session, they asked questions on how younger generations can be effective and integral parts of the movement, the important conversations and the evolving structures at both a local and larger community level.

The 2014-2015 Student Organization of the Year Award demonstrates that the college itself noticed all of the Alliance’s work and the rising spirit of leadership within its ranks. However, it was the club’s perseverance after losing its chaplain, which ultimately earned it the recognition.

Oliver explained that the circumstances of the chaplain’s dismissal were “mysterious.” She had played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Pagan Alliance and bringing together the three student leaders. Oliver described the chaplain, who preferred to be anonymous, as “a wonderful person and … extremely supportive of the club.” Her dismissal came as a surprise.

Even after the hearbreaking news, the Alliance continued on with its work in support of its mission, and that perseverance won it the award. Member Blue Anderson said:

I think that this award represents an acknowledgement of this club as not only unique, but important. We all knew that the student body knows that we’re here. We have a presence on campus. People see us around. But receiving this award seems to say not only, “We see you,” but, “We value you, too.” 

Co-founder Sasha Reed added:

In today’s predominantly Christian society, pagan groups are so frequently either blatantly discriminated against or simply brushed under the rug. By awarding Mills Pagan Alliance the Club of the Year award, to me this sends a clear message that our school both respects us and recognizes the work we’ve done. When Kristen, Rose, and I first sat together and discussed the prospect of starting a pagan club, I never thought that it would expand to be the community of strong, supportive students it has become today. Winning this award means so much to me; a recognition of my faith as a legitimate, respected practice in my school community, and a recognition of all this club has achieved. Going forward, I hope this award will allow Mills Pagan Alliance to serve a wider community within our school and the surrounding city and also help our club to receive additional funding to host more events, and also solidify this club as a permanent, prominent force on Mills campus. 

Oliver noted that the award also has a very personal meaning for two of its members. Reed and Quartz are graduating. For them, this is the proverbial “icing on the cake” of their time at Mills College and a mark of job well-done.

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

The club’s next event will be a Beltane ritual held May 1 at the college’s Botanical Gardens. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff. Then, May 9, the Alliance will be taking part in the 12th annual Berkeley Pagan Festival, during which members will be assisting with the main ritual. Next year the group hopes to host a hospitality suite at PantheaCon that caters to college-age Pagans and addresses issues specifically facing young Pagans. Oliver said:

Going forward, we are still committed to being at the forefront of keeping spiritual and religious life a permanent feature on campus for all until a permanent multi-faith chaplain is hired. But we are also interested in how we can be of service to the greater Pagan community, particularly for those of college age. We will certainly be engaging in the conversation regarding race, gender, and privilege within the Pagan community. 

PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioOn Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

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10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

*   *   *

PantheaConOver the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

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On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.

What is PantheaCon?

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2015 — 22 Comments

SAN JOSE – This past weekend, close to 3000 Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists and others of diverse religious beliefs descended on Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California to attend the annual PantheaCon event. This is the largest indoor conference of its kind in the United States. Held over President’s weekend in mid-February, PantheaCon boasts “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.”

pantheaconWhile PantheaCon is very popular and attracts an international following, there are far more people who do not know what it is, don’t care to attend, or do not have the time and means to attend. As observed by Jason Mankey in his post “Pagan Festivals and the .25%,” the number of people who actually attend PantheaCon and other community-based large events is relatively small compared to the number of Pagans and Heathens in world. While it is impossible at this point to assess whether his figure of .25% is statistically correct, Mankey’s assessment provides a perspective on the place of large festivals and conferences within the global Pagan movement and within our collective communities.

So for those who wonder “What is this PantheaCon?” Here is look at this year’s event.

PantheaCon is held in a Doubletree Hotel near the airport in San Jose, a city located in California’s Bay Area. For decades, this region has been the birthplace of and provided the nurturing soil for many influential American Pagan works and organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest such conference has grown up in this area.

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. And, these people could easily feel overwhelmed by the conference’s crowds, bewildered by the community, or just simply confused when Krampus strolls by their breakfast table.

This year’s theme was Pagan Visions of the Future: Building Pagan Safety & Social Nets. PantheaCon didn’t always have a theme, and the event is so large and diverse in its offerings that it really doesn’t necessarily need one. As organizers will say, this diversity is very calculated and scheduled. They aim to provide a healthy range of representation – a little bit of something for everyone who attends. For example, this year the events ranged from practical application workshops, such as A Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Teague, to intense panel discussions, such as Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? hosted by T. Thorn Coyle. There were many rituals, such as CAYA Coven’s Wake up to Spirit, Ekklesia Antinoou’s Teenage Gods and Heroes, and Victoria Slind-Flor “Grandmother Ritual.”

There are also a significant number of hospitality suites offering their own workshops, presentations, rituals and parties. Organizations and religious groups, such as Coru Cathubodua, Church of All Worlds, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Covenant of the Goddess, The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, The Temple of Witchcraft, provide a comfortable place for their members to relax, connect and greet visitors. In addition, there are non-group affiliated hospitality suites that serve as a safe spaces or learning centers. Such rooms included the Pagans of Color suite, Reiki Explorers, Pagans in Recovery, Pagan Scholars Den and more.

PantheaCon officially opens at noon on Friday with a ritual led by Glenn Turner and friends. After that, attendees make their way from scheduled event to event, through meals, socializing, and shopping in a packed vendor room. The bustle of activity begins at 9 am and doesn’t end until well after midnight. The entire conference comes to a close on Monday at 3:30, when Turner leads the final ritual.

Over the course of the next week, many bloggers will detail their personal experiences from PantheaCon 2015 and share their takeaways from the weekend. Social media is currently flooded with talk of PantheaCon; what happened and what didn’t. Each attendee’s experience is different because there is no way for one single person to absorb the conference as a whole.

Despite the weekend only just having ended, there are a few posts already published. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has posted several articles written throughout the weekend, all of which detail the ups and downs of eir experience as both a presenter and attendee. On Saturday, John Halstead published an inspirational post from his hotel room at 5 a.m.

Patheos Pagan Channel’s Niki Whiting and Jason Mankey have both shared their accounts of this year’s conference, including highlights from presenting and socializing. Whiting wrote, “But Pantheacon, guys. I’m still high as a kite, giddy, and ready to fall asleep on my feet after five days of friends and travel and provocation and heart-expanding discussion.” Whiting plans to expand her PantheaCon discussion over the next few weeks, as many others will.

In addition, three other writers have published PantheaCon inspired articles, but in all of these cases, the writing is on a single, very focused topic and event. These blog posts include Jonathan Korman’s “open letter” to the “mysterious writers of the PantyCon schedule” and Taylor Ellwood’s “Pantheacon, Bringing Race to the Table, and Racism.” Finally, Shauna Aura Knight also published an article on this topic. For The Pagan Activist blog, she wrote:

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing Racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

What happened? This discussion panel was called Bringing Race to the Table and inspired by Immanion/Megalithica’s newly published book of the same name. However before the panel began, a PantheaCon volunteer informed the panelists and attendees about a problematic write-up in a satirical newsletter called PantyCon. This flyer, written and published each year by an anonymous group, is a mock-up of the convention schedule and pokes fun at the entire event and the community itself. Although originally created by PantheaCon, PantyCon was abandoned by the organizers years ago. It was, then, picked up by an anonymous group and has no affiliation, sponsorship or association with the organization.

The offending write-up in the satirical PantyCon schedule was titled: Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans. As noted by both Korman, Ellwood and Knight, many attendees and the PantheaCon organizers felt the joke was simply not funny and that it had violated the conference’s strict anti-harassment policies. Organizers very quickly attempted to collect and remove all copies, and they also welcomed everyone to an impromptu discussion session on Monday at 11am. Detailed in Knight’s post, the Monday talk allowed for a far deeper discussion of the issues at hand.

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

After the announcement and apology was made, the schedule panel, “Bringing Race to the Table,” was able to continue successfully. However, it ended with Luna Pantera standing up and delivering an emotionally powerful speech on safe spaces, race and the pain she experienced, specifically caused by PantyCon. When she was finished, the room of attendees rose up in speechless applause and support.

Through his post, Korman is now asking for the anonymous writers to apologize. He has also welcomed others to sign their names to the letter in the comments.

As is seen from the multitude of accounts both in social media and in these blogs, PantheaCon is not always easy and not always fun. Although it can be both of those things as well as many others. While only a small percentage of the population attend the conference, the experiences are carried back into the smaller regional communities, through the travelers, blogs and social media. In this way PantheaCon becomes bigger and more influential than ever would be possible with the limitations of its actual time and space.

For those few who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is a type of pilgrimage, as noted by Whiting. Through this pilgrimage, one can meet old and new friends; network and share experiences; learn and expand horizons; be put in uncomfortable situations and comfortable ones; find a connection through religious culture; and possibly even build an extended community.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500According to the Londonderry Sentinel, “the Limavady Borough Council is considering” replacing the missing Manannan statue with one that “would be made of mild steel and would stand two-to-three times as tall as the original.” The paper reports that Development Services Officer Valerie Richmond reported, “In all probability, despite extensive searches it is unlikely that the sculpture will be returned. Council’s views are sought on how they would wish to progress.”

Speaking to the Derry Journal, councilman Gerry Mullin said that he would ” ‘absolutely’ be supporting a proposal to replace the iconic statue of Manannán Mac Lir.” But he added that he doesn’t believe it needs to be 2-3x the size. The issue will be discussed tomorrow at a Feb.10 Council Meeting.

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Solar Cross Temple

The Solar Cross Temple, based in California, has announced that it no longer is seeking to create an urban temple space. As the Board explained, the economic downturn “dried up” the fundraising efforts for several years. As a result, the Board put the entire project on hold. After several of years of waiting and watching, they have concluded that the community “doesn’t really want to support a physical structure.”

However, as written in the announcement, “[Their] work continues, and temple members study and honor the Gods in their own homes, and gather together monthly in backyards and rented spaces.” Any money raised in previous years will either be returned to the original donors, if requested, or will be given to the New Alexandrian Library and used for special Solar Cross projects.

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Druid College UKOn Feb. 6, the Druid College, originally founded in New York, announced the opening of its UK branch. The new location will be led by Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne. Together with its sister site in Maine (U.S.) the Druid College will host a “three-year, intensive study” for those interested in taking their spiritual studies further.

In a press release, organizers said, “We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.” The college accepts people of “all walks and intent” into their first year studies program. The Druid College is not accredited and offers no degree program.

In Other News

  • Green Egg has announced that it is now under new management and will no longer be publishing in a print format. In a recent press release, new editor Hollis Taylor and
    Ariel Monserrat said, “Hollis plans to modernize Green Egg bringing the magazine into the new millenium. Green Egg will not be publishing printed issues, as in the past, but will have a large team of volunteer writers who will be contributing to carrying on the legacy of Green Egg.” Once up and running, they hope to publish an article every day.
  • Documentary filmmaker Sam Carroll has produced a 66 minute film that tells Wiccan Priestess Darla Wynne‘s story. The film, titled Bedevil: Never Back Down, details the horrific challenges that Wynne faced after moving from Alaska to a small town in South Carolina, and how she eventually overcame her fear and stood up to the city council. Bedevil is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m.

  • Shekhinah Mountainwater’s popular book, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, is now available in digital format for the Kindle. This release is part of a larger project to capture and share “Shekhinah’s wonderful legacy … music, writings, creations of any kind.” The organizers of this project are asking anyone who might have such things to contact them at shekhinahmemories@gmail.com.
  • The Pagan Educational Network has published the Feb 2015 edition of its newsletter “Water.” In its pages, PEN makes a call for books to assist in its Prison chaplaincy work. While the organization welcomes any book donations, it is specifically looking for copies of Raymond Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Christopher Penzack’s The Sons of the Goddess.
  • Patheos has started a new blog series focusing on art and religion. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan Channel editor, explained further, “In this interfaith series, writers explore how visual art may persuade, proselytize, or reveals truth. Pagan contributors include visionary painter Paul B. Rucker, Zen Pagan Tom Swiss, and mixed media artist Aaminah Shakur.”
  • PantheaCon, the largest such conference in the U.S., begins this Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16 in San Jose, California.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

[Photo Credit: W. Guy Finley/cc. lic. via wikimedia]

The upcoming convention season brings about much celebration, many learning opportunities and face to face community interactions with other Pagan practitioners. Paganicon, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Sacred Space, Between the Worlds, and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies all happen between January and March. These large convention-style Pagan events have become an essential part of the community landscape.

While these conventions can be more costly than camping festivals, they are packed full of programming and bring a diversity of people to the forefront of our community expansion. Part of the beauty of events like this include the combination of Pagan authors, speakers, practitioners, ritualists, healers, musicians, and emerging or locals talents. And, of course, no one can deny that these events provide an opportunity to shop at incredible Pagan markets.

So what can we expect this year from the upcoming conventions? How do these conventions serve the community in 2015? What are people looking forward to the most?

All conventions have their own cultures. Each one appeals to different people for different reasons. Whether it is the presenters, concerts, merchandise, or the chance to engage with others, conventions seem to serve a multitude of community needs within modern Paganism. Thousands of people pay the entrance fees and hotel costs, and some even purchase plane tickets tickets, just to attend these conventions from the west coast to the east coast. In many ways, these events serve as a pilgrimage for many Pagans and have value in the larger picture of community.

The myriad reasons why Pagans seem to go out of their way to attend conventions are just as diverse as the responses below.

Author and artist Lupa Greenwolf will be presenting at PantheaCon and is an honored guest of Paganicon this year. Over the year, Lupa has been an avid participant and presenter at many pagan conventions.

Lupa Greenwolf
[Courtesy Photo]

There are a few different things that draw me to conventions. Some of it’s business, some of it’s fun. On the business end, I go there to present workshops and other activities, both to share neat things I’ve been working with spiritually, and to promote my writing and artwork. I also vend my art and books at a lot of local conventions, Pagan and otherwise; a lot of these things I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to attend if I weren’t selling my work to pay my way. Conventions are always a great networking opportunity, especially larger ones where you may have people from all over the place.

But that’s the work end of things.I wouldn’t go to these events if they weren’t also fun. I’m a really, really busy person, and conventions are sometimes the only significant social time I get during the craziest parts of the year. They pull together a bunch of people I might not get to see in person otherwise, and they get me out of the apartment! I don’t get to attend as many workshops as I’d like most of the time, just because I’m often preparing for my own presentations, or attending to a booth, or catching up with long-distance friends. But there’s usually something that I absolutely must go see while I’m there, and it’s nice to just sit back and absorb someone else’s wisdom and experience for a while.

I’m really looking forward to PantheaCon next month; I’m already making plans to see people there (and maybe do a little hiking out in the wilder areas out of town.) And then I’ll roll right into MythicWorlds in Seattle, which always has some of the best energy and people-watching. I also just sent in booth applications for both the Northwest Tarot Symposium and Sister Spirit’s Pagan Faire here in Portland; the first one is shiny and new, while the latter is an old, well-loved favorite. And I’m always happy to be with my Faerieworlds folks in the summertime. Closer to home, I’m already making plans for the third year of my own event, Curious Gallery, which while it isn’t blatantly pagan, it is deeply inspired and informed by my dedication to nature.

Taylor Ellwood [Courtesy Photo]

As an author, practitioner, and publisher, Taylor Ellwood participates in multiple conventions around the United States both as a presenter and as an attendee to simply connect with community.

I like to participate in conventions because it gives me a chance to meet other Pagans and magicians that aren’t local to my area. Additionally I enjoy the opportunity to interact with people who like my work and might not otherwise get to meet me.

I’m most excited about attending Between the Worlds, which is a conference that is only held every few years. The next one won’t be until 2020 so I’m excited to go to the one happening this year.

Brenda Titus is a professional hypnotist in Orange County, California, and a regular participant in the annual PantheaCon festival held in San Jose, California. This year Brenda will be adding to the event’s workshops with her own slot, bringing her skills to the participants of the festival.

Brenda Titus [Photo Credit: http://www.ochypnotherapy.com/]

Brenda Titus [Courtesy Photo]

I first attended PantheaCon 5 years ago having no idea what to expect. A friend had been going for years and suggested I go. My first experience was CAYA Coven’s “Wake up to Spirit” ritual. It moved me so deeply, I felt like a part of me had in fact “woken up” well beyond what I expected. I filled myself up to the brim that weekend with workshops, rituals, energy beyond my understanding at the time. I went home with an energy hangover and a deep desire to return!

Over the years, my motivation to return has changed. While I have Pagan community and family at home, people who are deeply part of my personal growth and my life throughout the year, my once a year visit with people that I only see in person at PantheaCon is also a very important part of my motivation to participate. I have had profound experiences at PantheaCon that were propelled by well crafted rituals, performed by people that I have grown to trust, and fueled by serious group energy.

I don’t know if I can pick one thing that I am most excited about, so I’ll have to pick 3:reconnecting with people (at rituals, parties and on the fly), rituals & workshops that will help me on my path for the year … The thing I’m MOST excited about is that this year, for the first time, I get to give back as a presenter. The experiences that I had at PantheaCon over the last 5 years have definitely propelled my career as a Hypnotherapist, so I am thrilled to present “Connecting to the wisdom of the soul with hypnosis.” 

Lisa Spiral Besnett  [Courtesy Photo]

Lisa Spiral is a long time Priestess and the author of two books through Immanion Press. She goes to Pagan festivals routinely and has flown from the midwest to California for the past several years to participate in PantheaCon.

I really enjoy seeing old friends and the opportunity to network. There is often interesting programming and I find it useful to learn and grow outside of my “comfort zone.” As an author I also think it’s important to put my name and face out there in the community.

This year I’m very excited about the expansion of the discussion of Race and Paganism. I think we have a unique community mindset that is ready to actually examine privilege and look for ways to move forward in this area.

While there continues to be a lot of disagreement and confusion around the concept of community and Paganism, these conference are some of the few times Pagans get to practice community in action together. Having collective experiences and shared space among the many different groups underneath the large umbrella of Paganism appears to foster a feeling of community that we often lack otherwise.

So how do these conventions serve the Pagan community? I find this question to be vital in most of the things we choose to do, and conventions are no exception.

They’re a coming together time. We get to have a temporary space where we can share ideas, catch up with people, and let new movements find their footing. It’s a great seedbed for zeitgeist. And for some people, conventions are one of the few opportunities they may have to interact with other Pagans, particularly those of a similar tradition. It’s easier to hit a critical mass that can make great changes in the community at a convention because of the sheer volume of attendees and the relatively public nature of the setting. You may only know a few people there really well, but they know people, and those people know other people, and an idea can spread very quickly, especially if it’s sparked by something in the moment. Look at the situation with transgender women and Z. Budapest at PantheaCon a couple of years ago; that probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact if it had been one transgender woman being told “No, you can’t join our small Dianic coven, sorry. – Lupa Greenwolf

I do feel conventions serve the community. They provide a space for Pagans to be openly Pagan and have the experience of meeting and working with other people who share their interests. – Taylor Ellwood

These conventions (all, not just PantheaCon) serve the Pagan community because they bring people from various regions, varying traditions and philosophies together to learn with and from each other. What I learn at Pantheacon, I bring back to my own community. This is also a time for regular “coming together” to focus on community issues in order to bring about change. I’ve seen this over the years in regards to gender issues, leadership, safety, people of color, etc. One con does not set the agenda for the entire Pagan community, however important conversations that need to be made in person take place, which help carry forward into growth and paradigm shift. – Brenda Titus

I think the conventions serve the community in a number of ways. They are a very public event, and therefore make an opportunity for new people to see there is a community and for the larger community to acknowledge our subgroup. I think it’s a great chance to touch base with people we don’t get to see regularly and it’s easier for some of us than camping at festivals. I think it’s incredibly important that these conventions represent the diversity in our communities. It’s very easy to see Paganism from our own practice or tradition lens and forget about all the variations that are out there. Intra-faith work is just as important to me as interfaith and these conventions are strong intra-faith opportunities. – Lisa Spiral

January starts the convention season and 2015 is shaping up to be a fascinating year. The Conference on Current Pagan Studies, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Paganicon, Sacred Space and the Between The Worlds Conference all span across a 3 month period. As this year’s convention season unfolds, we get to see the best and the worst elements of community come together in small moments of time that become memories, spark ideas for collaboration, shed light on the need for continued activism and more. Friendships are formed; opportunities for networking or birthing new ideas come to the forefront; and problem areas within them modern Pagan community are often exposed.

Conventions have become part of the foundation of the modern Pagan culture. Good or bad, every year we tend to learn something new about ourselves individually and collectively. We get the chance to ask ourselves how participating in the greater Pagan community, or culture, supports collective goals and advancement. How do we use these opportunities to promote understanding and intrafaith dialog? How can we create a collective culture of tolerance, inclusivity, excitement and respect among the many different, unique and viable parts of our modern Pagan experience? How do these very moments shape the community at large? These are important questions in today’s time.

Descriptions of the five mentioned conventions are listed below, including links for more information.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24 – 25 in Claremont, California. This year’s theme is Fecundity and Richness of the Dark. There will be two keynote speakers. Vivianne Crowley will present “Stepping out of the Shadows and into the Light: Evolution and Tensions in the Future of Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft.Orion Foxwood will be presenting “Consecrating the Underworld: The Eco-Spiritual and Co-Creative Implications of Faery Tradition”. Other presenters are included in this two day conference, which highlights some of the academic areas of Pagan research.

PantheaConPantheaCon will be held February 13 – 16 in San Jose, California. This year’s theme is Pagan Visions of the Future; Building a Pagan Safety and Social Net. This four day event will feature a wide and diverse array of workshops, panels, concerts, and rituals. The schedule is packed with anywhere from five to eleven workshops in each time slot. With several thousand participants each year, this is the biggest Pagan convention in the United States. This year’s schedule includes authors and performers, such as Jason Mankey, Selena Fox, Rhyd Wildermuth, Alley Valkyrie, Taylor Ellwood, Shauna Aura Knight, David Salisbury, Courtney Weber, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, Pandemonaeon, Lou Florez, Orion Foxwood, Celia, and many, many more.

ConVocation, located in Detroit, will be held on February 19 –  22. This year’s theme is Journey’s End:  A New World Begins and the guests of honor include Andras Corban-Arthen, Kerr Cuhulain, Dorothy Morrison, Diana Paxon, M.R. Sellars and Mother Moon. The featured presenters include Jason Mankey, Ellen Dugan, Michelle Belanger, and others. ConVocation, which has been run annually since 1995, boasts about 100 workshops and presentations, and has approximately 35 vendors for Pagan shopping.

paganiconMinnesota’s Paganicon, now in its fifth year, will be held between March 13 – March 15. According to the website, “Paganicon is organized by Twin Cities Pagan Pride and a host of volunteers to provide an educational and social venue for Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, Druids & other folk, craft, indigenous or magickal traditions.” This year, Selena Fox and Lupa Greenwolf are the guests of honor, along with performances by Tuatha Dea. The program schedule has not yet been released and there are still several upcoming deadlines should anyone want to be involved. Presenter registration deadline is February 1, and the final schedule will be released February 15.

Between The Worlds

Between The Worlds

For this year only, the Between the Worlds and Sacred Space Conferences have merged. One admission price will give you a joint experience including the list of guests from both conferences. The joint event will be held March 5 – 8 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. This year, there will be presentations by T. Thorn Coyle, Aeptha, Ivo Domínguez, Jr., Katrina Messenger, Dorothy Morrison, Christopher Penczak, Kirk Thomas, Michael G. Smith, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Judika Illes, Diana Paxson, Literata Hurley , H. Byron Ballard, and more.