There is a palpable lack of energy at this particular Pantheacon. Everyone seems much more quiet and less enthusiastic; maybe it’s Mercury retrograde or maybe everyone is still reeling from 2013.
We showed up later in the day, mostly because we had such a late Friday night and wanted to sleep in. Diana Paxson’s Divine Relationships was the first session we attended. Diana was her usual entertaining and informative self. She discussed how establishing a relationship with Deity or Spirit is almost exactly like developing a relationship with other humans. You introduce yourself, learn about the other individual, share common experiences and foster common ground. I kept getting distracted by the behaviors of fellow attendees, but I was determined to focus on the presentation.
The irony is that attendance at festivals and conferences such as Pantheacon are intended to stimulate community building, yet participants engage in little discourtesies constantly. Every session I have attended, cell phone sounds have interrupted the speaker. People mutter to themselves, whisper and chat with their companions and endlessly fidget. In one session, the man sitting next to me was texting and shopping on his phone, while punctuating his impatience for a text reply with heavy sighs and sounds akin to a horse. Other people knit while they listen to the presentation – elbowing their neighbors. During Diana Paxson’s session, an attendee went up to the front of the room and completed an entire book-buying transaction with Paxson’s comedic side-kick while the rest of the audience tried to listen to Diana.
Out in the halls of the hotel, people interrupt conversations without so much as an, “Excuse me,” and act as if other people don’t exist. In groups of people, no one makes introductions. While I’m sure that discussing the -isms – sexism, racism, homophobia – are important topics, it seems to me that the reason our communities are fractured are because no one seems capable of engaging in basic social courtesy. If our community needs institutions, perhaps we should begin with a finishing school.
The next phenomenon I observed was in Daily Practice Sucks: Moving Daily Spirituality Forward by Lisa Spiral. The session was popular, I counted almost 100 people in attendance. What was shocking to me was that when asked about a daily practice, only about 5% of the room raised their hand.
Several years ago, I read the results of a Gallup poll on the religious behavior of Americans. The overwhelming majority of the people polled said that they attend church or temple, not necessarily for an experience of the divine, but for the fellowship with their community. Spiritual experience takes a backseat to the potlucks and other social events their religious community offers.
It occurs to me that there is a division of intention in the Pagan community. On one side, you have the Pagans, Witches, Heathens and others who want to develop themselves spiritually, who want to experience communion with the divine, who are excited about coming into relationship with their Gods, ancestors and spirits. On the other side, you have Pagans who are like the majority of church-going Americans – they come to festivals, rituals and other events for the camaraderie with like-minded friends.
If you walk around the hotel at any time, day or night, the tables at the cafe, the restaurants, and the lobby are full with people chatting over food and drink. The vendor room and the reader tables are full of busy social butterflies. Yet, not even ten minutes into the session, people were already getting up and leaving Lisa Spiral’s presentation on daily practice. Ms. Spiral made an amusing comment when she noted the few audience members with a daily practice, “Those of you with a daily practice don’t need to be here, unless you are trying to figure out a way to make your students commit to a daily practice.”
I’m old fashioned I suppose. My community lacked an “institution” so rituals and circles were always in someone’s home or backyard. We were faithful to developing ourselves – our psychic gifts, our magical power, and our relationship with the Powers. We wanted to have an experience of the divine and we wanted consciously create our lives. Basic observations of etiquette and respect were always practiced – especially important when you are practicing in someone’s home which they so generously offered.
But it appears that many Pagans don’t necessarily want those things. I read that many Pagans don’t even want to practice magic. A community center sounds to me like the ideal place for this new breed of Pagan – where they can chat endlessly about all manner of things over coffee, tea and pastry. Where events can resemble a casual cocktail party, rather than a devotional ritual or magical working. Most importantly, casual spaces are needed for Pagans who can’t seem to turn the ringer off on their cell phone.