Pantheacon 2017 and a Growing Community

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You know all those friends you have on Facebook who are really dear to you, but you never see?

Imagine if there were a place you could go, once a year, where hundreds of them showed up at once.

A place full of interesting conversations, and great parties, and meaningful rituals, where hugs abound and laughter is in the air. Real love. Real talk. Real people.

That’s Pantheacon, the largest gathering of Pagans in North America. Every year, 1,800-2,500 Wiccans, Wicans, Witches, Heathens, Devotional Polytheists, Animists, Pantheists, and Atheopagans attend.

This year’s was particularly sweet. The conference itself ran smoothly, with little drama. I work as volunteer staff, and everyone seemed in a good mood.

John Halstead and I had two events accepted as presentations this year: a discussion group on non-theist Paganism, and a ritual, the Living Earth Devotional. Additionally, I threw a non-theist Pagan mixer after the discussion group. All went splendidly!

The discussion group, “Dancing Without Divinity”, was attended by about 50 participants (fortunately, in a much larger room than we had last year). We had an excellent conversation, sharing experiences of being non-theists (Atheopagans, agnostic Pagans, and those for whom the question of whether or not there are gods is unimportant) in the broader Pagan community, and discussing the relative merits of ecstatic experience versus contemplative experience as the goals of rituals.

The mixer afterwards, generously hosted by the Spark Collective‘s hospitality suite, gave some of the discussion participants a chance for more informal conversations, and went on for more than an hour. I met some new friends and reconnected with others I hadn’t seen since last year’s discussion panel.

On Saturday night, John and Ruth Halstead and Venee Lotusfire and I co-led the Living Earth Devotional, a ritual of dedication to service to the Earth. It culminated in a Knighting ceremony wherein those who chose to take the oath were sworn as Knights of the Earth. It was genuinely moving, and feedback was affirming and heartwarming. My co-leaders did a fantastic job; it was a real pleasure working with them.

At several points during Pantheacon, I found myself having The Conversation with excited and grateful (and in one case, genuinely spiritually confused and questioning) attendees who were thrilled to have confirmed that they were not alone, that it is perfectly normal and okay to be an Atheopagan. That we exist.

We’re still at that point, as a movement that is a subculture of a subculture. But that’s okay: things have already changed a lot. Whereas in 2015 we had no events on the schedule at PCon and there was a lively debate in the Pagan blogosphere over whether we were really Pagans or not, now we are represented as just another flavor of our diverse community, and most appear to have accepted that we’re in the big tent like everyone else.

Religious naturalism is on the rise. Various traditions of it from naturalistic Buddhism to Atheopaganism are becoming more popular and more visible all over the world, just as we are becoming more recognized and respected in venues like Pantheacon.

And why not? The natural world is awesome.

Like the time I had at Pantheacon this year. And the people I spent it with.

Green Shoots

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The light is returning, and after torrential rains, I am enjoying a day of sparkling sun here in Northern California. The hills are emerald green this winter—a dramatic shift from the sickly yellow of the drought years. What a relief.

A week from this evening, I and friends will be leading a ritual at Pantheacon, the largest gathering of Pagans in North America. I’m nervous, and wildly focusing on memorizing the outline and my parts, but I’m also really excited. It’ll be great to see friends I don’t usually get to see, and to hang out with some of my most loved people.

Despite the national horror show, I feel spring’s optimism kindling within me. I have no idea why, though the added light may be a big part of it.

I hope that you, too, are finding reasons for hope this spring. Even as we fight the appalling regime that has taken over the U.S., we must find those moments of joy, the opportunities for sweetness. It is a world filled not only with horror, but with beauty. Never forget.

 

Why Ritual?

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For atheists new to the “pagan” part of Atheopaganism, the frequent question to crop up is: what’s up with these rituals? Why do you do those?

And to speak to the rational parts of their minds which are commonly what they most rely on, I answer that ritual enables us to enter the Ritual State (limbic/”trance” brain state, also known to artists as “flow”). It’s pleasurable. It adds depth and meaning to life.

But there is more than that. In marking the passage of the seasons, in conducting rituals to recognize, transform and heal our personal woundedness, we gain new hope and motivation towards our goals, and express deep intentions for the future. We connect with one another, building community.

We conduct rituals to mark special events in a person’s life, such as naming ceremonies, passage into becoming an adult, marriage, or death. These rituals are powerful reminders that our lives define an arc, with recognizable waystations, beginnings and ends. Indeed, we need more such rituals than we are generally offered: rites of passage into adulthood, for example, are sorely lacking in our mainstream culture.

But the core reason to do ritual is that it feels meaningful. Ritual practices help to sacralize the experience of living. And living in a re-sacralized world is a path to bringing respect into relationships which we have probably previously taken for granted, such as our relationship to Earth-given and labor-produced food, or the relationship between the plant kingdom and every breath we take.

We do ritual because humans are ritualizing organisms. We have been ritualizing the important moments and meanings of our lives since before we were fully human. Denying this, pretending that we have somehow transcended the manifold natures of our evolved brains to focus only on the “thinky” parts, is to deny the factual nature of the human experience.

We are still the creatures who painted the powerful and desirable/huntable creatures of their landscape upon cave walls, who left the prints of their hands in the caves to say, “I was here.”

And it is through ritual, even today, that we create memorable moments of power and meaning. That we connect with our deepest selves, and each other.

That’s why.

But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. Give it several, because it may seem awkward at first.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Check out the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, and the posts here tagged Ritual Technologies and Techniques. And let me know how it goes–I may have suggestions or kudos or ideas for you!