PantheaCon began 26 years ago and has been growing ever since. Taking place in San Jose, California, It is one of the largest gatherings in the Pagan community.
This year in 2020 will be the 26th and Final PantheaCon. I once had a vision of the many tribes of Earth religions and neo-pagans coming together to network and share our varied views of spirituality. That vision came true for many years, but as time passed it grew bigger and the viewpoints diverged. I still hope PantheaCon has been of benefit to many individuals who met like-minded friends at it.
I will be retiring at the end of PantheaCon 2020. In doing so, I hope to create a space for new leaders and new faces to bring fresh visions.
I wish to acknowledge and thank all the many staff who over the years have given so selflessly to PantheaCon, this coming together of the tribes. Of primary recognition is Sabre (head of Conference Assistance Team and Operations) who has been with the Con from the start.
Jamie and Thalassa each also deserve special recognition, as they have worked hard for many years to bring more diversity to the Con, and for bringing their special talents and viewpoints. I thank the many department heads and staff who have invested their time and energy to make the Con grow and run for so many years.
As late as last week, PantheaCon continued to release diversity statements and organize around the conference scheduled for February 14-17, 2020. The conference announced the opening or registration as well as calls and applications for panels, papers, vendors, and workshops not unlike previous years.
In the months leading up to the 2019 PantheaCon, however, the conference came under scrutiny after disinviting Max Dashu from its program. Dashu was reportedly accused of creating an unsafe environment for the trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming members of the community.
Turner wrote in December 2018, “It was a mistake to include Max Dashu in the program and I want to personally apologize to each of you. I have communicated with many of you directly and have read every letter sent personally. I want to apologize for my part in causing the fear, pain, and sense of exclusion that many of you felt. Providing a safe and inclusive space is of primary importance to me and the convention staff. In order to provide that safe space, all trans-exclusionary advocates and those in close association with them will not be presenting at PantheaCon for the foreseeable future. I hope we can have healthy debates about our many societal issues at this and future Cons.”
Subsequent to Dashu’s removal from the PantheaCon program, Witchdoctor Utu was removed as well citing concerns raised by community members about cultural appropriation related to his book, Conjuring Harriet “Mama Moses” Tubman and the Spirits of the Underground Railroad. Editorial Note: PantheaCon did not affirm the claim of cultural appropriation.
Turner responded, “I also apologize to the whole PantheaCon community for the chaos and confusion caused by our dis-inviting both Max Dashu and Witchdoctor Utu after they had been accepted in our program. Please be assured that this will not happen again. In the future, we will make every effort to more carefully verify presenter credentials and check a variety of sources in our background research. We will also consider the social and political impact of each presenter and presentation in making decisions going forward. If a presenter seems too controversial or divisive to community members, we hope to determine that before the program is published.”
During the same period, Turner was also experiencing personal challenges requiring her attention, including the changing needs of her disabled daughter that limited her level of hands-on involvement in the conference.
Subsequently, during and after the 2019 conference, community members participated in healing events. But, their impact on the future of PantheaCon would not be clear.
Concerns lingered after the event and some of them manifested in the summer of 2019. Members of the current staff announced their retirements. Later, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood released a statement announcing their withdrawal from participating in PantheaCon, and Circle of Cerridwen also announced that they would not be attending.
Just last week, PantheaCon organizers noted that “The PantheaCon Programming Review Team are pre-screening presenters… We have no tolerance for exclusionary and hateful behavior, with ejection from the event when identified. But we may develop methods to be more effective and have more teeth as we try to improve implementation of this. If a presenter gets bad reviews, they likely will not be accepted to present in the future. Ongoing development of policies and practices will be a part of the process of addressing this, and that will continue to be ongoing as needs and situations are identified.”
The statement also came with a new clear challenge that foreshadowed the current decision. In response to questions about staffing problems, Turner and her team noted “there are too few of us to keep the con going into the future. Many dedicated PantheaCon staff have made this event possible, but with all the distress in the past year, many are choosing to distance themselves. The small (for the size of the Con) number of 140 effective and experienced staff has allowed us to manage, but they are burnt out.”
Turner also announced her retirement in September, but there was no mention of PantheaCon’s future. Yesterday’s statement about 2020 being the last year cleared up any questions in that regard.
The statement mentions that “We are lower on staff this year compared to other years. Please consider helping make the Last PantheaCon a success by joining us on staff or as a volunteer. The hours you choose to work will reimburse your membership fee back and it can be an opportunity to learn more of the many tasks it takes to make a conference work.” The team called for additional volunteers and for those interested to contact PantheaCon for details.
Turner closed her statement with, “May the Gods protect our Pagan Ways”.
Reactions to the announcement on social media were swift and emotional. Many individuals thanked the PantheaCon team and Turner personally. Others underscored how the conference was a meaningful part of their spiritual lives. Overall, many reacted with sadness at the announcement.
Rumors began to surface this morning about the possibility of a team offering to continue PantheaCon or a similar conference after 2020; however, they were met with a fair share of concern about trust, policy, and accountability. At the time of publication, no one has stepped forward to verify their involvement in a future con.
TWH will continue to follow this story.