I find that every year, it takes awhile to process my experiences at the convention and to wade through the aftermath. I posted about my direct experiences here, but I find that now that it’s been three weeks, I’ve had enough time to really think about my experience, and read about others’ experiences. For the first time, I find myself considering not going next year.
In short, I was disappointed in this year’s PantheaCon. The overall vibe of the Con felt off somehow, scattered. There seemed to be conflicting agendas; maybe large factions within the Con were at cross-purposes. Whatever the reason, I never entered the flow, because I didn’t sense any flow.
Part of the problem may or may not be that the convention itself doesn’t seem to have a mission statement or guiding objective. In the FAQs, under What is PantheaCon?, it states, “We are a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs that occurs annually over President’s Day weekend. Well over 2000 people attend more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.” There are no directives to share your tradition(s) with others, or to provide inter/intra-faith discussion, or to showcase the diversity of the greater “big-tent” (or big umbrella, or whatever metaphor you prefer) of the Pagan community. In other words, it’s buffet-style and you make the conference your own.
I mention this lack of an overall objective potentially being a problem because it means that everyone comes to PantheaCon with their own agenda. I go to the conference to be inspired, learn new techniques, methods, songs, and to gain exposure to other traditions. Others seem to attend PCon to engage, and perhaps resolve conflicts.
The past three years have been filled with conflict. It started three years ago, when transwomen were barred from participation in a female-only workshop. The struggle continued online in the Pagan blogosphere, where it seemed to reach crescendo at the following PantheaCon two years ago. This year, the conflict started online between groups which could be loosely defined as devotional polytheist Pagans and reconstructionist Pagans, and other groups loosely defined as eclectic Pagans, Wiccan Pagans, and those who use Wiccan ritual forms and methodology. The struggle continues online, as it would seem that the grievances were not resolved at the convention.
A bit of self-disclosure is required at this juncture. I technically can identify with both groups on either side of this current conflict, though I tend to favor the devotional polytheist Pagans. Long before I was an initiated Gardnerian Wiccan, I was a devotional polytheist. As a small child, I had a burgeoning relationship with the Gods of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. My devotions were simple and intuitive: spontaneous prayers, a bit of incense, a candle. In short, I had a personal, active, and visceral relationship with a variety of Gods and Goddesses. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, I don’t believe in Gods. I know that the Gods exist, of course. I know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.
A few years ago, I was quite shocked to learn that many Wiccans do not share my knowledge of the Gods; in other words, they are not also “hard-polytheists” (gross – I despise that stupid term, but if you are familiar with this ongoing theological debate, you’ll perhaps understand my use of that ridiculous word). In fact, many Wiccans seem to view their tradition as a practice, much like yoga asana is a practice, regardless of what one “believes.” This emphasis on praxis, and not religion (or “belief”) makes it very easy for initiates to maintain an atheistic or humanistic weltanschauung. In my naiveté, I assumed that everyone in my coven knew the Gods as real, individual divine beings with their own agenda, agency, and ability to influence the world. How wrong I was.
With the popular disco-ball theory of divinity – that every name of the Gods and Goddesses is merely a facet of The God or The Goddess, or even of an ultimate Source, performing ritual becomes like cooking with a recipe. One simply inserts the name of whichever deity (ingredient) into your ritual (recipe) to “gain” the “results” one desires. I’ve always found it disrespectful and lacking in integrity, though I’ve participated in more than one ritual where that was the norm.
So, why might this be my last PantheaCon? Because I’m tired of the silly conflicts. I can’t believe these are the things we are arguing about! The Wiccan-influenced Pagans can’t see how privileged and “standard-issue Pagan” they have become? Really? I don’t get why they don’t get it. I also don’t understand why everyone who identifies as Pagan can’t embrace and encourage our diversity. Why do some seem to want a monolithic “Pagan” definition, agenda, and methodology? It’s good that we discuss and attempt to solve these problems, because clearly there are problems. I’m just dismayed that these are the types of problems we are having.
Maybe I do not play well with others; maybe I’ve grown too curmudgeonly to flourish in a group setting. Perhaps I am meant to spend the rest of my time as a solitary polytheist Pagan. I did learn one thing about myself during this time – I will never return to Wiccan practice, at least not as a member of a coven. It’s too difficult to really know and trust that you are committed to a group of people who share your values and perspective. Unless I can find some way to connect with the devotional polytheist Pagans and reconstructionist Pagans, I fail to see the value in spending an entire weekend attending a preponderance of workshops and rituals focused on the Wiccan-influenced Pagans. I hope there is a diversity of offerings at next year’s conference, or I may decide to spend my four day weekend elsewhere.