I’ve just returned from Pantheacon (PCon), the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in North America. Running from Thursday through Monday over Presidents’ Day weekend in February each year, PCon attracts 3,000 members of every conceivable tradition to conduct and attend workshops and rituals, to share information and fellowship, and to discuss issues facing the community as it evolves. I have attended it perhaps a dozen times since the early 1990s, and for the past two years I have worked the convention as a staff member.
My overall experience with this year’s PCon was splendid! I saw and visited with many friends and loved ones, met new friends, attended fascinating discussions and moving rituals, and had a marvelous time rolling out Atheopaganism to the broader Pagan community.
It was particularly exciting to me to meet Esther Bamberg, Lupa Greenwolf, Jon Cleland Host, John Halstead, and others with whom I had interacted online but never met in person: great people all of them, with sharp minds and good hearts.
Over the weekend, we held three Atheo/naturalist/humanistic Pagan events, all hosted by the generous agreement of the Pagan Scholars’ suite, a wonderful group of very welcoming and interesting people (thanks, friends!)
Our first Atheopagan event was an open house/meet and greet on Saturday afternoon: well attended, with a wonderful convivial atmosphere and great discussions among attendees. It was particularly moving to me to have members of the Atheopagan Facebook group introduce themselves and tell me how much value they were getting out of Atheopaganism and the material we are developing for practices and rituals. Exciting! Though the gathering ended in the mid-afternoon, apparently there were people coming by the suite to ask about “the atheist Pagans” well into the evening and a tall stack of Atheopaganism brochures was distributed to the interested and curious.
On Sunday afternoon, we held a panel discussion with standing room only. Moderated by Lupa, the panel covered interesting topics such as how we see our atheism and Paganism fitting together, how we arrived at our current paths and perspectives, challenges and opportunities we see in how naturalistic/humanistic Pagans are currently accepted in the broader community, and where we think our paths are going as they develop. There was plenty of opportunity for questions and comments by the attendees, and a collegial and friendly atmosphere resulted in continued conversations and socializing for a half-hour after the panel ended.
I then held a workshop on Atheopaganism which was also fully attended, and managed to give my talk despite having left my outline at home. Discussion with the audience gave me new ideas to ponder and suggested books to read. A wonderful feeling in the room.
We took a short break after I talked about the origination of Atheopaganism and its values and principles, and then conducted a short ritual to demonstrate the praxis of the religion. Jon, John and Selene Vega helped with the ritual, which we closed with singing of a hymn from the Atheopagan Hymnal led by two musicians who had downloaded it and learned the song even prior to the conference. Very cool!
The ritual itself was engaging and effective even though the attendees mostly didn’t know one another and the enacting group was working together for the first time. The God-Mask technique worked very well, for many attendees it was a moving and significant piece of ritual work. As we have said so often, ritual techniques work for bringing us into the liminal present and creating growth and shifts within us!
Afterwards, several people sought me out to thank me for creating the Atheopaganism tradition and helping to get the word out about it, saying that they were finding deep meaning in the materials on this site and the discussions on the Facebook group. “I finally found out what I am!” said one, “I’m an Atheopagan!”
Meeting people who are using ideas found through Atheopaganism in raising their children and living their lives was profoundly affecting to me. I feel honored and humbled by it.
I also had a great conversation with Jon, John and his wife Ruth, and Rhyd Wildermuth over lunch in the cafe, in which Rhyd (a theist) and the rest of us came to greater mutual understanding after having had some conflict online. I was reminded again of how Internet interaction can undermine our sense of the Other’s humanity; while his cosmology is different than mine, it’s clear to me that Rhyd is a thoughtful and impeccably intended activist for a better world, and we need all of those we can get.
There are many more stories to tell, but those are the high points. Pantheacon 2015 was in many ways the Atheopagan “coming out party” to the broader Pagan community, and I could not be more pleased with how it all went. My deepest thanks to everyone who was a part of it.
I’m already starting to mull over what we might do there next year. I hope to see many of you there!
Photo from Selena Fox’ Twitter feed.