The Last Pantheacon, and What’s Next

Pantheacon, the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in North America, is no more. For a variety of reasons, Glenn Turner, the organizer, has decided to close it down and is retiring.

I have been associated with PCon for a very long time. I attended the first one (I think), and have been to most of them over the 20-odd years it continued. It was a chance to see friends I didn’t see otherwise, to learn new things, meet new people, enjoy performances and generally to enjoy a majority-Pagan space for awhile, in stark contrast to the ordinary world.

In recent years, it has provided opportunities to present and share about Atheopaganism, to meet fellow Atheopagans, and to discuss our growing path.

The love was palpable. The parties were epic. (Many of) the rituals were powerful.

It was a good time.

This year was no exception. I enjoyed myself greatly, our round-table discussion on nontheist Paganism was packed, one of the rituals I led went terrifically (the other was kind of meh, to  be honest). I was glad to be there.

That said, Pantheacon had its problems. It was slow to respond to problems with bigotry and lack of safety on the part of oppressed minorities, and as a for-profit enterprise, it was not in any way transparent about its finances nor its decision making.

I have written before about how the Pagan community is changing. While there is a movement to have a new event in the same hotel and over the same weekend, but under new vision and management, next year, I believe that we have simply become too big for a single major event to accommodate us either in our diversity nor in our numbers.

I think and hope that smaller regional events will begin to connect Pagans from their local areas not only with one another, but with their land and biome. Certainly the experience of traveling long distances to get together with fellow Pagans does not bring us into closer encounter with the Earth.

Accordingly, I am organizing an event in June called Midsummer Dawn. Held in a group campground at a magnificent local state park, Sugarloaf Ridge, it will be an opportunity to get together with like-minded others, hike in magnificent country, enjoy one another’s company and conduct a couple of evening rituals.

Midsummer Dawn will be simple. It will have no workshops, nor vending spaces. It’s just a camping trip intentionally focused on Pagan folk, with some rituals to connect us with one another and with the land. While not the four-day rush of Pantheacon, I think it will take us into joyful places together.

It will certainly have a far smaller ecological footprint, and that counts for a lot in my book.

What I most loved about Pantheacon was seeing my friends, and making new ones. In California—because fire is such a danger in the summer—it is very difficult to create a large outdoor festival for Pagans, so we have to go small. I hope my friends and folks I don’t yet know will take a chance on a low-cost event like Midsummer Dawn.

In the meantime: thanks, Glenn. Thanks to all the many volunteers who made the event possible over all those years. Thanks to those who sought to keep it accountable to progressive Pagan values. Thanks to those who helped to create the many golden moments I will cherish from Pantheacon.

4 thoughts on “The Last Pantheacon, and What’s Next

  1. I think Pagan events are probably like anything else in that there is not some pre-set inherent limit on their potential size and duration. It’s just the sum of cohesive forces vs those tending to break it apart. Pantheacon’s graph has simply been trending the wrong way for too long. Some of that was the economic model and some was changes in the community.

    Some of it in recent years was the result of a political but almost quasi-religous fundamentalism and corresponding fundamentalists who were intent on leveraging the con as a way to grind their personal and political axes. There are people who go to these things now every year with the express purpose of finding some pretext to torpedo the thing, and with social media, they have very efficient means to do so. Pantheacon’s leadership simply didn’t have the temperament or skill set to contend with them.

    They also did not have a clear enough philosophy, set of rules and transparent enough decision making to stand up to these people. It’s not enough to simply say you’re “for inclusion”. You better have a real clear idea of where you draw the lines on diversity of ideas vs inclusion and the much-abused concept of “safety”. And you better be able to stand your ground on it consistently. If you do not, these people will eat you alive and destroy your event. You need to decide what your event is truly about – fun, learning, fellowship or whatever and orient all decision making around keeping the focus on that. Because there will be plenty of people looking to make it about them and their agendas.

    Apart from this, the potential for growth is really only limited by how many people your event resonates with. Some of the best and biggest things come out simple organic gatherings of like minded folks. Burning Man started with a few friends 34 years ago on a beach. It’s now something like 80,000. It’s not even an event so much as a movement or even a nation which exists year-around but manifests geographically in a specific place annually.

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  2. I generally agree, but some of PCon’s demise was down to a slowness to respond to cultural changes and some genuinely uncool things that happened at the con and legitimately made people feel unsafe.

    While no event can be responsible for the behavior of all the people attending, some of these problematic occurrences were rooted in challenges faced by the community writ large, such as racist Heathens and various kinds of gatekeeping. It is hard to root such stuff out, as most people know that bigotry isn’t cool and try to keep theirs hidden.

    Also, events like Burning Man (or Lollapalooza or any other big gathering) don’t require subscription to a shared value set. You just buy a ticket and go, and so long as you bring what is required to get through the event you’re pretty much on your own. Even the vaunted “gift culture” is opt-in. Pagan events assume that you share a liberal and tolerant approach to the community, but there are always those who slip in who do not, and this contributes to undermining the desired feeling of the event.

    In the end, I agree that Glenn took a tremendous amount of grief–much of it undeserved in my opinion–from people with political agendas, some of whom come at their politics with an eye to fault-finding and assuming the worst. Certainly she didn’t want any more of that, and no one else did, either, so the event shut down rather than being handed on when Glenn retired.

    At the end of the closing ritual this year, she skipped out of the room crying, “I’m free! I’m free!”, and I’m sure it felt like that. It was a lighthearted moment and one that was, I’m sure, a tremendous relief to her.

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    • Burning Man very much has a shared value set. They have 10 principles, the first of which is “radical inclusion”. They seem to have a culture which articulates and transmits these values pretty effectively for a giant and disparate movement. Lolla I think is more just get wasted and have music but in fairness I don’t know as much about that scene

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      • True, but in practical fact you don’t have to subscribe to those ten principles. I’ve seen plenty of behavior at BM that indicates people don’t. The difference is that people don’t blame BM for that–they blame the individuals involved. At a Pagan event like PCon, the event gets blamed for the behavior of individual attendees.

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