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.”
While 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.
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.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.