Pantheacon 2017 and a Growing Community

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.

The Wheel Turns

The days are a bit longer now.

The area where I live has been beset by storm after  blessed storm, so-called “atmospheric rivers” pouring onshore to deluge the parched land of California. We smile beneath our rain hoods and grumble cheerfully about knotted traffic. And despite the dark, pendulous clouds, it is palpable: the days grow longer. It isn’t December any more.

Meanwhile, of course, the greater Darkness we knew was coming after November 8 is now manifesting itself. The petulant toddler we have elected is swinging a wrecking ball in every direction, cheerfully making a mess of all that is decent. This will continue.

The wheels are turning: astronomical forces beyond our control swinging the Northern Hemisphere slowly back into warmth and light, into fecundity and bursting birth and life and death again; the human cycle of history, currently grinding underfoot what is decent and kind and life-affirming.

How do we countenance such paradox? How bear such juxtaposition?

On the one hand, we must, of course, resist. As millions who marched this past weekend have, we must stand up and say that the ugliness of Trumpism is not ours, nor our vision for our world. We must inventory our strengths, take up our available weapons, and fight. This is not a time for mediation and understanding and conciliation, for what confronts us is nihilism and brutality: it has no human heart. It is the time for those of us who can to be heroes: to take up our swords and ride.

On the other, it is a time to survive. The winter is growing old, and if nothing else, the simple fact of lengthening days means that we are succeeding in meeting the challenge of Winter’s yearly Death.

It is a particularly cold and hostile one, and it will last at least four years. We must gather our loved ones close, draw about us the resources we cannot do without. We must hide if we are targeted and do not have what it takes to stand tall. We must make common cause so we cannot be easily disappeared. We must be heroes if we can, but more importantly, we must survive, for it is we who will tell the story of how we defeated fascism when it came to America. It is we who will be The Resistance.

It is we who will see the Spring come again. As Pagans, we must believe, despite what is before our eyes, that the bloom of life and love and kindness will come again, however dark the winter may get.

Some of us will not make it. Some will be martyrs. Some will be victims. As it has always been with winter, some simply will not hold out until Spring. Those of us who do not have privilege will be more at risk than those of us who do, and it is therefore even more our obligation to fight for our comrades who do not enjoy it.

But we are Atheopagans. We are clear-eyed in looking at the world. We do not kid ourselves. This is going to be hard, and there will be suffering.

But we will survive. Our values will survive.

Spring is coming. The cross-quarter Sabbath of the beginning of February, which I celebrate as Riverain, the Festival of Water, but many others call Imbolc or Brighid, is nearly upon us.

It is time to nurture the flame. To ready our tools. To plan our strategies. To envision what will grow in the coming season.

To take oaths of service to what we love.

Each of us will do so in their own way. And ours is not to judge how another chooses to proceed.

But each of us can swear to fight as we can. Each of us can commit to something that contributes to the return of Spring.

If you are coming to Pantheacon, I invite you to join us for the Earth Devotional ritual on Saturday night. It will provide you an opportunity to swear an oath to the Earth—to solemnly, formally join The Resistance with love, determination and Will.

If not, perhaps this can be a part of your Sabbath rites this Imbolc.

Because we need you.

Planet Earth itself, and so many of her vulnerable humans, needs you now.

Photo credit: Susan Seasons

Atheopaganism at Pantheacon 2017

John Halstead and I have two events on this year’s Pantheacon schedule—plus a social gathering! This conference/convention, held in February each year, is the largest gathering of Pagans in North America and an important driver of cultural development in the Pagan community: four days of workshops, panel discussions, rituals and performances. It is held at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California; in 2017 the dates will be from Feb. 17 through 20.

It’s also lots of fun! Much socializing and many parties. It’s an opportunity for people who don’t get to see one another often to catch up and work together, as I am looking forward to doing with John.

I hope that as many Atheopagans as possible are able to join us for these events. They are:

  1. Dancing Without Deity: A discussion of non-theist Paganism. Held at 3:30 on Friday in the Silicon Valley Room. We welcome you to join us for a conversation about non-theistic Pagan beliefs and practices. Both curious theists and non-theists are welcome. Moderators John Halstead and Mark Green will discuss the different paths to and within non-theistic Paganism, and will invite others to ask questions and share a little about their paths. This will be an opportunity to foster greater understanding about this increasingly visible part of the Pagan community in an open and mutually respectful environment.Following this event will be a Non-Theist Pagan Mixer, in the Fire Family Suite (room number 241).  Come say hello!
  2. Living Earth Devotional: A Non-Theist Ritual of Commitment and Connection. Held at 11 pm on Saturday in the San Jose/Santa Clara rooms. Devotional rituals can be some of the most powerful forms of rituals. But ritual devotion is not limited to theists. Join us in a rite of devotion to the Earth itself, to the life-giving miracle of the soil, water, air, and sun which sustains us all. The ritual will culminate in an opportunity to take a vow — simple or life-transforming — in service of the Earth and the living beings to which it is home. Both theists and non-theists are welcome. This will be an opportunity for those curious about non-theistic Paganism to experience non-theistic ritual in a non-confrontational environment.

I’m so excited and grateful that the Programming staff at Pantheacon saw these events as worthy additions to the con! There’s a lot to do between now and then, but it’s joyful work and I look forward to it.

Your input is welcomed! If you have ideas for the devotional ritual, use the Contact page form to drop me a line. No guarantees that we will use all ideas, of course, but we will consider all of them.

I hope to see you there!