Column: Paganicon 2016

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Minneapolis, Minn – For the past six years, Twin Cities Pagan Pride (TCPP) has hosted Paganicon, a three day indoor conference featuring the opportunities to learn, network and celebrate. Pagans and Heathens from across the U.S. are joined by Canadian visitors and the occasional overseas guest to partake of Minnesotan hospitality.

PaganiconMinneapolis is a large and dynamic city that is cut by the mighty Mississippi River and sits alongside the city of St. Paul. Together they are known as the Twin Cities. Urban sprawl has engulfed smaller surrounding communities creating a metro area made up of more than three million people. The city is also a place with an uncommonly large Pagan population and has been dubbed “Paganistan”.

This affectionate moniker was coined by local poet, priest and “Man in Black” Steven Posch. In his 2005 essay “Witch City, Pagan Nation,” he tells the story of this naming. Adding to Minneapolis’s reputation as a Pagan mecca is the presence of the world’s largest independent publisher of metaphysical books, Llewellyn Worldwide. Founded in 1901 in Portland, Oregon, the company moved to Los Angeles in 1920. When St. Paul native Carl L. Weschcke purchased the company in 1961, he brought operations home to the Twin Cities.

In recent years, helping to build this reputation and the community through news sharing is the  Pagan Newswire Collective-Minnesota Bureau edited by Nels Linde. Is it any wonder that Pagans and Heathens would be drawn to a place that boasts a Witches Hat shaped water tower on the highest point of land in the region?

[Photo Credit: Marumari / Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Marumari / Wikimedia Commons]

TCPP is an independent entity, incorporated in 2008 as a non-profit, tax exempt organization. The original intention of the group was to run an annual Pagan Pride event in conjunction with the national Pagan Pride Project, on the first Saturday after Labor Day. With such a huge population of Pagans in the Twin Cities, this event led to the need for another big opportunity for the community to gather. This need gave birth of Paganicon

Since its inception in 2011, Paganicon has grown by leaps and bounds. The first year featured 40 events and one guest of honour. This year’s conference featured 115 events, three guests of honour , three featured guests, one featured ritualist and 55 additional presenters.

The attendance reflects this growth as well. According to TCPP President, Wendy Seidl “Every year we break a record, it just gets bigger and bigger. This year we were hoping to break 500, and we did by Saturday morning.”

Guests of Honour T.Thorn Coyle and Ivo Dominguez Jr. (photo by Dodie Graham McKay)

Guests of Honour T.Thorn Coyle and Ivo Dominguez Jr. [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

Hospitality is the first thing that strikes you as you enter the hotel, a Double Tree by Hilton located in the St. Louis Park area. The hotel staff seem to really like having a colourful bunch of Pagans in their midst. Special menu options, including vegan and gluten free selections are available, and the hotel bar brings in local cider and mead specifically for the conference delegates. The first TPCC volunteers you meet are at the registration desk, and they are equally warm and welcoming, despite being swarmed by people wanting to register for the weekend, buy merchandise or ask questions.

It is here that anyone can become a member of the “Flying Monkey Squad,” the team of volunteers who look after everything from badge checking to decorating and clean up. Not only is this a great way to meet new people, but you can also get a rebate on your registration for taking shifts. This atmosphere was appreciated by writer and Paganicon workshop presenter, Jason Mankey:

Paganicon compares nicely to other indoor Pagan events like ConVocation and PantheaCon. The vibe was welcoming and laid back, and the hotel that hosted the event was perfect. (Having the right type of rooms for presentations makes a big difference). One of the things I like about smaller events is that they often have a more “group community” feel to them and I felt that way at Paganicon. The organizers were on top of everything and everything was set up nicely.

Guest of Honor, Ivo Dominguez Jr. summed it up by saying:

This year it was a much larger conference and remarkably it still managed to be just as warm and cohesive as it was at my first visit. I was especially pleased by the variety and the diversity of the presenters, the topics, and the respect shown to them.

This years theme was “Sacred Traditions: Global Visions and Voices.” The influence of this could be felt throughout the weekend, from the workshops, lectures and rituals to the Equinox Ball on Saturday night and the party suites. The Wild Hunt was a presence this year, treating conference delegates to a party room that featured fancy martinis and a mashed potato bar, which is apparently a “Minnesota thing.” On Saturday morning,the TWH team, consisting of managing editor Heather Greene, assistant editor Terence P. Ward and writers Cara Schulz, Crystal Blanton, Manny Tejeda-Moreno and myself, presented a panel discussion on the history of the site and its service to the greater Pagan communities.

One of the most unique features of this conference is the inclusion of The Third Offering Gallery, an art show, comprised of Pagan artists, most of whom are from the Twin Cities area. Sixty six pieces of original art by more than 30 creators were showcased. New to the art show this year was a print room, where featured artists could sell reproductions of their work, as well as smaller pieces. The originals works were up for sale as well, with several beautiful pieces being snapped up by the time the gallery closed on Sunday at noon. This gallery, as well as the vending area were open to not only conference delegates, but to the general public as well.

Other programming highlights from the weekend included multiple and sometimes back to back offerings from the three high-profile Guests of Honor – T.Thorn Coyle, Ivo Dominguez Jr. and Mambo Chita Tann. The opening ritual, which was led by Australian guest Jane Meredith, featured the Guests of Honor, and the large conference room it was being held in was packed to the point that it could not accommodate everyone who tried to get in. Mambo Chita Tann not only presented lecture on Haitian Voodoo, but on Saturday night hosted a ceremony as well. Artist, author and certified ecopsychologist ,Lupa, brought mental health and the natural world to her workshop “Ecopsychology for Pagans”. TWH’s own Cara Schultz brought us to ancient Greece for her “Omens & Curses” lecture.

Tribute space placed at the center of the Restorative Justice circle by Crystal Blanton and T. Thorn Coyle. [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Tribute space placed at the center of the Restorative Justice circle by Crystal Blanton and T. Thorn Coyle. [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

The blending of the serious content and the fun atmosphere was one standout feature of this conference. Even the hardworking presenters had a chance to kick back and enjoy. Ivo Dominguez Jr., who presented seven events and helped present the opening ritual, observed:

I was impressed by the balance of serious work and good fun. I really can’t choose just one of the many things that I enjoyed. Perhaps the best thing is that the attendees and the staff seem to strive to make things work out for the best outcome available in the moment. Paganicon is one of the few events that I attend that truly attempts to include the full gamut of things that add up to the building of culture and connections in our various spiritual communities.

Jason Mankey found time to have fun between his lectures, reflected:

For me something like Paganicon is work so I have to balance work highlights with personal ones but there are a few that stand out. I had an amazing class at my “Drawing Down the Moon” workshop, and it was literally so full that I think a few people turned away because they couldn’t find a seat. That was gratifying and I loved it. The social aspects of the conference were great too. I got to reconnect with some of my favorite people from around the country and hang out with some new folks. I ended up spending Friday and Saturday evening in the company of some great Winnipagans, which was not something I expected going into the event, that was a highlight.

Next year Paganicon promises to break records once again. During the opening ceremony address, programming coordinator Becky Munson broke the news that for the first time, Paganicon will be raising the registration fee by $10. She then proceeded to deliver the good news that a Friday night concert will be added to the already busy and diverse schedule. In a later interview Munson went on to say:

Each year it gets a little bit better, things get a little tighter, we learn a little more and can dial in on what people want and makes good sense and what we can do logistically in all those things. We look at every single feedback form – the whole board does. We do a post mortem and have a whole board session to just go through the forms. Every suggestion is tabulated. We pick all of our next year’s stuff based on those forms. Paganicon is a community driven event. It takes everyone being here, everyone buying tickets, everyone presenting programming and everyone engaging each other in order for this to be a thing.

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Paganicon 2016 makes the local paper [Photo Credit: H. Greene]