Woodland Dreaming: Missing Ancient Ways

I’m back from Pantheacon, and had a wonderful festival again. I was involved in three conference offerings—a ritual for activists (“Arming the Earth Warriors”), a mixer for non-theists, and the annual ritual by the Spark Collective, of which I sit on the Core group—and all were well-attended and received. Our non-theist ritual had nearly twice as many attendees as did last year, so things are growing.

As for the conference itself, it was a flurry of reconnecting with friends I rarely get to see, late-night parties (followed by early-morning work shifts), resultant sleep deprivation and diligent efforts to make sure I remained fed, hydrated and grounded. It’s an otherworldly environment where there is always a lot going on, and there is no possible way to be everywhere you would like to be at any given time.

I’m glad to be on staff at Pantheacon, which allows me to attend and have a room for free in exchange for hours of labor, and to be a part of producing it for the greater community. People come from all over the world to attend.

There used to be another gathering produced by the same people who put on Pantheacon. It was an outdoor festival that took place in the summer, and it was called Ancient Ways. I found myself thinking about it this weekend.

Ancient Ways had, in many ways, a similar format to Pantheacon: there were a schedule of workshops held in various gathering places, some large scheduled rituals, and an area where vendors set up pavilions to sell their wares.

That said, the atmosphere was completely different. Attendees camped in tents,  throughout a broad meadow or in the mixed oak/bay laurel/madrone woods surrounding it. A central building housed a space for workshops, a commercial kitchen and space where those who needed indoor accommodations could stay. And there were hot and warm pools for swimming and lounging, trails with magnificent vistas of the California coastal mountains, showers and bathrooms with flush toilets. It was a beautiful place, and it was clothing optional, so if you wished you could truly be out under the sun as Nature produced you.

All these places are gone or radically changed. Harbin Hot Springs, the venue, burned in the Valley fire that ravaged Lake County in 2016. It is rebuilding, but it will not be the same.

But that’s not why Ancient Ways is no longer held. It shut down long before that, with declining attendance even as Pantheacon, at an urban convention hotel, continued to grow. Ancient Ways ran from 1983 to 2008, and then, it was over.

What this says about the Pagan community is…complex. I believe that a part of what killed Ancient Ways was simply that many habitual attendees were aging. They were no longer comfortable camping on the ground, or they needed a place to plug in C-PAP machines, or the long windy drive to Harbin became too much for them. And what I have observed is that overall, Pagans—to their credit—have fewer children than non-Pagans, so a “replacement population” wasn’t really coming up.

The organizers, too, were getting older. They might not have wanted to camp, either. Or maybe it just didn’t make enough money to seem worth it.

But oh, to walk naked under a full moon, with the shadows of the trees dappling the ground! To loll in the warm water with friends, murmuring and laughing. To dance around a ritual fire in the wild, and not around electric candles in a hotel ballroom.

To my knowledge, there is no longer a Pagan festival on the West Coast in a natural setting which accommodates 300-500 people, as did Ancient Ways. We are in fire country, and it is exceedingly difficult to find a place where you can safely have a bonfire in California summer. The closest thing I have found is Ignite, a delightful Fire Circle community event, in July in the Santa Cruz mountains. Its capacity is about 75 attendees. (If you have a chance, I strongly urge you to join us for this joyous, meaningful, beautiful gathering.)

But Ancient Ways rituals were awe-inspiring. The sheer number of people involved in the rituals made for a primordial power, lit by the dancing flames, our feet in the good Earth’s dirt, tree branches arching into the light at the periphery. Together in our diversity, in our tribal sameness, under the winking stars.

It felt like what Paganism is supposed to be.

I miss it.

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Come Join Us at Pantheacon!

For the fourth year in a row, Atheopagan events will take place at Pantheacon, the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in the United States. Pantheacon 2018 will be held February 16-19, at the Doubletree convention hotel in San Jose, California.

Pantheacon is an adventure: there is wide-ranging content on all sorts of Pagan paths, and the attendees include many memorable, wonderful, and colorful folks. Much of the material isn’t really germane to Atheopaganism, but I always find useful and thought-provoking presentations to attend, and the experience of seeing in person friends I rarely get to experience other than online is a real treat.

This year, I am involved in three offerings at Pantheacon. They are:

  • Arming the Earth Warriors: An Activists’ Ritual. This ritual is for those who are actively working on issues of environmental and social justice concerns, to help them in their efforts.  1:30 pm Friday the 16th, in the Silicon Valley Room.
  • Non-Theist Pagan Mixer. Immediately after the ritual will be an informal gathering for non-theist Pagans and those curious about non-theist Paganism. Come by, have a glass of wine and a snack, and enjoy great conversation! 3:30 pm Friday the 16th, in the Fire Family Suite, Room 241.
  • Spark Collective Ritual. This annual offering is always a favorite. I serve on the Core committee of the Spark Collective; their ritual format is deity-free and based in the Fire Circle Tradition11 pm Saturday the 17th, Fir Room.

Pantheacon is an opportunity to meet new friends, hang out with old ones, learn about the very disparate paths of Pagans from throughout the world, and have a great time! I hope to see and/or meet many of you there this year!

If you are at Pantheacon and looking for me, most of the time other than at the events above I will be working in the Green Room, which is where presenters go to check in. Come find me!

What’s This Atheopaganism About, Exactly?

So, we’re doing this Atheopaganism thing.

What’s its purpose? What are its goals?

I think we talk around the edges of this question a lot, with discussions of Sacred values and Principles that clearly point their way to a vision. But it would be better to articulate that vision straight-out, so people are clear about where I come from, and so we can discuss and refine it if it doesn’t work for the Atheopagan community writ large.

My vision for Atheopaganism is a nested set of Russian matryoshkaIt exists on scales from the personal to the societal.

Personally, I pursue my Atheopagan practice as a modality for healing my inner wounds, navigating my life, and cultivating more wisdom and joy and awe and celebration. To be a better person.

Interpersonally, I hope my Atheopagan practice helps me to become more kind, less acerbic, and closer in my relationships, even if they don’t share my cosmology. Success is mixed on that one, but to some degree that’s because I don’t always succeed in bringing my best self forward. Working on it.

In the Atheopagan community—those who read this blog and/or belong to the Atheopagan Facebook groups, mostly—my goal is one of service. I provide resources, ideas, projects, personal reflections and lore meant to help others to develop their own practices, so they can enjoy the personal benefits I have and shape and adapt Atheopaganism to their own needs.

More broadly, in the Pagan and Atheist communities my goal is to hold up a lantern: to offer a pathway to those who may find value in it, and help to ease their entry to what may be unfamiliar and strange. My goal within those communities is not to convert anyone, but rather to ensure that this path is given room to exist, and to support those who are interested in it.

Finally, societally my goal is a better world. Where people are happier, and kinder, and more critically thinking, and more awe-struck, and more fulfilled, and more tolerant; where the human relationship with the Earth is resacralized; where diverse paths of religious expression are welcomed and allowed to flourish.

So that’s all: my vision is nothing short of total societal transformation. But it starts small, and quietly, in the heart.

For Pantheacon 2018,  I proposed a discussion group on the subject, What is Paganism FOR? Unfortunately, the proposal was declined. I think it could have been a fruitful and illuminating conversation. Because I think that when you strip away a lot of pomp and frippery, these are the goals of many, if not most of the Pagan community.

I have learned, however, that my proposed ritual, “Arming the Earth Warriors: A Ritual for Activists”, was accepted, so for the fourth year in a row, nontheist programming will be available there. I will also convene the annual Nontheist Pagan Mixer, so we can socialize with one another…news on that soon!

I’m really interested in the take of those who follow this blog on the vision articulated here. Please comment below, or on Facebook. Thanks!