Column: Pagans and Polytheists Get Ready for PantheaCon

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PantheaCon will be held Feb. 16-18 in San Jose, California. Attracting the nearly 3,000 people every year, PantheaCon is the largest indoor conference for Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, and related religious and magickal groups in the United States. Located at the San Jose Doubletree Hotel, the conference is a gigantic, rich, and varied event that includes over 200 classes, workshops, and rituals. It also features a vending area that expands over two large ballrooms, and spills out into the hallway outside. Hospitality and party suites provide a comfortable way to learn about new traditions, and nightly concerts feature performances from many well known Pagan artists. In short, there is ample opportunity for Pagans of all types and all levels of experience at this unique annual event.

This year’s theme is “sustainable, caring community,” focusing on seeking “justice, kindness, and resilience” among the multiple spiritual paths that make up the convention community. A large number of well-known authors and speakers will be presenting this year. Starhawk will be offering a session on renewing and sustaining your magic on Friday afternoon. Druid Kristoffer Hughes will travel all the way from Wales to bring his unique and popular style to three different sessions. Other well-known speakers include Orion Foxwood, Mary Greer, Christopher Penczak, Luna Pantera, Lon Milo DuQuette, and Selena Fox.

There also are a number of sessions that seek to educate and empower about current social justice issues, and the modern political environment. Among these is a panel that includes the Wild Hunt’s Crystal Blanton speaking about “Resistcraft” and an “Into the Streets!” presentation on activism led by Jacki Chuculate. This only scratches the surface of the presenters and their offerings. The full program can be rather overwhelming.

Author and artist Laura Tempest Zakroff describes PantheaCon as “the best kind of family reunion.” She loves that she is able to “see some of my most favorite people in the world” and “meet new folks who I never knew were missing from my life before then.” She will be busy over the weekend selling her artwork in the hallway outside the main vending room, traveling to the Feri suite at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon to offer a workshop on sigil witchery not listed on the main program, and presenting an official session entitled “Stirring the Cauldron: a Ritual Exploration of Movement” on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Zakroff will also give a dance presentation Sunday night at 9:00, also in the Feri suite. “I show my art in all sorts of venues and festivals,” she says, “but I feel like no one quite gets my work like Pagans/P-words/Witchfolk do.”

Marcus, a familiar face behind the bar at many of the parties, is looking forward to the weekend because, “I always love running into old friends and making new ones.” Marcus attends because he finds that “it’s nice reconnecting and seeing others who share the same passion for our magical culture.” One place that Marcus can be found this year will be mixing adult “potions” at the always popular Green Fairy Party. “Look for the satyr behind the bar,” he says.

Aside from bar-tending, Marcus also is a presenter. He will be offering a session on key magic on Sunday at 3:30, focusing on “how to use old and modern keys in your practice.” He explains, “I have a system of keys that I cast like runes to divine the message from spirit.” In addition, Marcus enjoys attending presentations “that have hands-on interactive experiences” or involve “crafting things.” But, he says, “almost anything you go to can shift your personal and magical awareness.”

Patheos blogger and author Jason Mankey is another familiar face who will be attending and presenting at PantheaCon. He is leading two events this year. One is a class on the horned god, “focusing on Cernunnos, Herne, and the Green Man.” He is also presenting a workshop on energy-raising modeled after Gerald Gardner’s famous anti-Nazi working known as “Operation Cone of Power.” “The plan,” says Mankey, “is for the first half to be done lecture-style, and then to move the chairs out of the way and do the energy raising.

“PantheaCon is such a big event that it’s impossible to look forward to just one thing,” says Mankey. “I love the socializing and the parties,” he continues, and adds that “the vending room is pretty amazing too.” He recommends a number of other workshops, including those led by Storm Faerywolf, John Beckett, and Courtney Weber. Beyond that, Mankey always looks forward to the annual “Pagan Humor” comedy show hosted by Angus McMahan.

Now in its 24th year, PantheaCon continues to grow in popularity, which may appear strange for a religious community more commonly marked by outdoor festivals and a reverence for nature. However, its location and the fact that is indoors may well be a large part of its success. “There’s something about an indoor venue,” states Zakroff, “that helps you conserve your energy, since you’re not having to deal with tents, weather, cooking, bugs,” or “sleeping on the ground.” This more comfortable environment may be a part of the convention’s proven ability to attract all types of people. “We get to see all the variations and the diversity present, all while being welcoming to newbies and ‘old timers’ as well,” Zakroff remarked.

Mankey agrees, also pointing out that the convention’s California location is another sweetening factor. In a month that is frozen and snowy in much of the world, “San Jose is a pretty nice place to visit in February,” he says. “I used to go to PCon when I lived in the Midwest and it was like journeying to a tropical paradise.” This, plus the fact that “it’s a very well organized conference with a million things to do” contributed to PantheaCon’s ability to attract all types of people from near and far.

“We may not be in a wooded clearing or at a bonfire blazing,” concludes Marcus, “but you’ll still see fairies, warriors, and glimpses of deity in the hotel lobby or at the cocktail lounge having a magical time.”

With so much on the schedule, it can be difficult for someone new to the convention to decide what to do. Marcus advises newcomers to the Doubletree to “follow the survival guide of water, food, and rest”and to “listen to your body if you need something.”

Mankey agrees, adding that a new attendee should “focus on trying to see a few favorite authors and presenters and keep your expectations about just how much you can do realistic.” While taking it slowly, Mankey also encourages attendees to introduce themselves to others because, although it is easy to “get a little starstruck,” most of the presenters “are really approachable and friendly.”

“You’re not going to get to everything,” says Zakroff. “And that’s ok.”

[Brenda Titus.]

With a little planning and a little self-care, PantheaCon can be a lovely experience for the mind and the spirit that keeps a person returning year after year. “PantheaCon literally changed my life back in 2005,” says Mankey. He recalls leaving a workshop he had led and “calling my father on the phone and telling him that I had figured out what I wanted to do with my life: write books and do workshops,” a goal he has now achieved. He concluded that PantheaCon can be “completely life-changing in a way no other festival has been.”

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.