The 18th annual Pantheacon, under the theme ‘Unity in Diversity’, was held this President’s Day weekend (February 17-20) at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California. It certainly was a big one: 2500 attendees and somewhere around 300 workshops, concerts, parties, etc. And I got to attend, thanks to a lovely invitation from Z., Y., and Y.’s partner, X. I got to drive down with Z. and share a room in the Doubletree with the whole gang (and Z.’s dog). I don’t know that I’d have been able to attend otherwise, so I am incredibly grateful that they graciously extended me this invitation.
Everyone in my group seemed to have their own interests at the convention. Z., who’s been a million times, didn’t have much of an interest in attending many of the panels, presentations, or workshops. Instead, she mostly caught up with friends and acquaintances, hung out in the CoG/NROOGD/NWC Hospitality Suite, and prepared to lead a passing ritual for her late ex-husband. I think Y. did his share of hobnobbing, too, but he and X. (also a PantheaCon newbie) also went to a lot of different scheduled events.
As I knew no one and positively adore attending workshops and panels, I filled my dancing card right up, so to speak. Here’s the grand listing of what I attended:
- Village Witchery 101 with Hexeba Theaux (Friday 1:30 pm)
- Who Are You in the Tarot with Mary Greer (Friday 3:30 pm)
- Oshun: The Daughter of Promise with Chief Luisah Teish (Friday 7:00 pm)
- Into the Feri Tradition with Anaar (Friday 9:00 pm)
- Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth with Rachel Pollack (Saturday 9:00 am)
- The Magic of Co-Creation: Making our Circles Work with Starhawk (Saturday 11:00 am)
- Ritual Theater: What Is It & How to Use It with Robin LaSirena and DK Cowan (Saturday 1:30 pm)
- Drawing Down the Moon: The Mechanics of Invoking Deity with Jason W. Mankey (Saturday 3:30 pm)
- Pagans and Hindus Together: One Billion Strong with Jason Pitzl-Waters (stepping in for Patrick McCollum), T. Thorn Coyle, Mihir Meghani, and Raman Khanna. Moderated by Amadea (Sunday 9:00 am)
- Beekeeping part 2: Artemis Worship by West and FFRASS (Sunday 11:00 am)
- Vampires R Us: Our Struggle to Be Moral Predators with Margo Adler (Sunday 1:30 pm)
- Brigid Circle of Healing Ritual with Selena Fox (Sunday 3:30 pm)
- Modern Trance Techniques for All Paths and Traditions with Gareth B (Sunday 7:00 pm)
- Body Stress Ecstatic Practices with Rev. Kirk Thomas (Sunday 9:00 pm)
- Kali Puja: Mysteries of the Dark Goddess with Chandra Alexandres and SHARANYA (Sunday 11:00 pm)
- The Mothers of Change with Anastacia Nutt (Monday 11:00 am)
- Village Witchery 202 with Valerie Voigt (Monday 1:30 pm)
Obviously, re-hashing each of these workshops in detail would result in a small novel, so I’m just going to give some highlights.
The Village Witch class series was nice for me in part because it reminded me that I can do magic on behalf of more people than just my immediate self: I could build a community client list if I wanted to. Even though I enjoyed ‘troubleshooting’ with a group of like minded people, I found the content to be mostly commonsense matter and several of the attendees to have just found the pagan paths…so there was a lot of fluffy bunny chatter.
I greatly enjoyed the two tarot workshops I attended, and loved being able to see my two favorite tarot experts in person (as well as the incredibly surreal experience of getting caught in an elevator with them later in the con). Mary Greer’s lesson was masterfully executed–she must have pedagogy training. We had a basic talk with a bit of the theory, a moment to clear up any misconceptions, and then a split into groups based upon our particular cards (I’m a Chariot!) where the participants talked to each other and learned how that card has manifested in our own lives, then we synthesized our discussion and brought it back to the group. It was very effective, I found. I similarly enjoyed Rachel Pollack’s lecture, but had to leave midway through as hers was in a smaller room that had become crowded and I was getting anxious.
I want to be Luisah Teish someday. I loved her so much, I know that nothing I write will come close to conveying anything about the experience of being introduced to her, to Oshun, and to some seriously awesome magic. Her Oshun ritual was easily one of the most fun and fantastic experiences I’ve had, period. Professionally, I’d love to cultivate a teaching style like Teish’s. It is definitely one I’d call performative, and she’s a master of her art–she had every person completely captivated. Even her very speaking voice is powerfully compelling music. (I’m fairly certain she was not using a microphone, and she was in a big hall!) For the entire rest of the conference, at least, I was humming the Oshun song she taught us…and I felt beautiful. Really, Teish must be experienced to be understood, so I share this video. It’s not from Pantheacon, but it definitely shows off her signature style pretty well.
As much as I adored Teish and her presentation, though, she’s got a strong rival for my favorite presentation of the Con. Jason Mankey (who blogs on Patheos and on his own site, Deep Pagan Thoughts) gave a wonderful talk about Drawing Down the Moon. That’s even more remarkable, because there were definitely a lot of things that could have gone wrong. Logistically, the poor fellow could have had some major attendance issues as workshops by three very popular Pagans–Raven Grimassi, Orion Foxwood, and Christopher Penczak–were scheduled at the same time. Even if, say, 20 people had shown up it would have been fairly disastrous since Mankey was in one of the biggest rooms in the hotel. Happily, though, enough people thought–like me–that Mankey’s talk was the most interesting of the bunch, and so the room was packed. Another major potential problem was the nature of the talk itself. Drawing Down is potentially one of the most personal experiences Wicca’s got to offer, so how do you make it accessible to 100 people at a time? And how do you balance personal gnosis and experience with not only 100 different accumulated experiences but with probably 100 different traditions, too?
Well, Mankey’s more brilliant than I, for he pulled it off. I think part of the success there was that he primed the audience before the talk. For example, he chatted with a lot of people as he was setting up, and he also projected a really humorous slide show based upon the slides shown before previews begin at the movies. Many were self-deprecating (Did you know Jason will be sober for this presentation?) and allowed the audience the chance to laugh as a group and create a subtle unity in spite of all our different paths and experiences. Better yet was the talk itself. Mankey skillfully wove moving personal accounts of some of his drawing down experiences (very moving–I think he almost cried when describing a particular drawing down with his college group) with solid and interesting historical information on how the ritual might have begun and developed. And he tied it all together with this sort of roguish, adolescent humor that everyone loves. It was fantastic, and I left excited to be part of a tradition that lets us interact so directly with the gods. I don’t get excited about anything.
Anaar’s Introduction to Feri was, unfortunately, forgettable. I was also a little disappointed with Starhawk and Adler’s talks as they both got a little disproportionate. Starhawk’s got a little leggy with audience participation–which was fun, but I really wanted to learn more about making circles work and balancing group dynamics. (I’m sure to get her book someday, though! If I had more cash at the moment, I would have bought it right then!) Adler was, as always, delightfully engaging, but her talk got bogged down with what became a litany of all the different types of vampire books on the market today, and her thesis got lost. I guess I also felt a little let down with Gareth B’s workshop on trance, though it was informative and pretty well done. I guess I was just a little too tired by that point to focus on the specifically unspecific guided meditation-esque trance he taught us: my brain entirely shut down and I might have gone too deep, as I don’t actually remember much of it.
I thought the Ritual Theater workshop had some great points, though it suffered from a little unevenness and perhaps too many ‘acting exercises’. Still, I would love to try some of the more theatrical techniques with my group sometime. I was also quite struck with some of the ideas that were brought up in the Pagans and Hindu’s discussion. Thorn Coyle recorded that one in its entirety, and it is available for download through her podcast: check out episode 52 of Elemental Castings.
In case you’re keeping track, that leaves West’s Beekeeping presentation, Selena Fox’s Brigid circle, Kirk Thomas’s Body Stress, Chandra Alexandre’s Kali Puja, and Anastacia Nutt’s Mothers of Change. Each of these proved to be incredibly powerful workshops or rituals for me, and I went into each with vastly different expectations.
With West’s beekeeping talk, I was just looking for some quiet information on the links between this sort of ‘wild agriculture’ and religion. I was totally blown away. Let’s just say I’m considering taking on a bee-linked magical name…and I’ve never felt called to a magical name before! Selena Fox’s Brigid circle had me bursting into tears several times–which is highly atypical for me. In part, I think it was because of the special work we did with and for Pagan soldiers. I’m always so thankful to our fighters, and I get choked up just thinking about what all soldiers must go through, let alone the special needs of our Pagan fighters. But I think it also helped with some emotional healing I need to let happen.
I attended the Body Stress, Kali Puja, and the Mothers of Change entirely by accident. I’d intended to go to other events, but somehow found myself swept into these instead. The body stress one was primarily about causing pain to the body to release endorphins and take you to an ecstatic, altered state. Thomas demonstrated piercing a man’s back with two big hooks and pulling on them to sustain the injury and the endorphin flow. Spontaneously, all of us sort of linked into the change and began clapping out a beat. A few people even upturned a couple chairs and turned them into impromptu drums. Everyone milled around and touched the man’s chest, and you could actually feel his energy and your endorphins got flowing! I’ve never experienced anything like that, and it’s given me a much greater appreciation for the power physical contact can bring to magic. Thomas also pierce a woman’s torso with a different hypodermic needle for each participant. We all milled up to the woman individually, placed one hand on her arm and one on her leg, and declared something we wanted to banish. Thomas then pierced the woman and we offered up the pain and the trouble to the Morrigan to eat. It was crazy intense: a little scary, yes, but very real and very powerful.
I went immediately from that place, still stunned, into the hallway to process and ground. Well, it turned out that I sat down where the line to the Kali Puja began, and I was given an entrance ticket. I wasn’t in a great head space for it–I still felt kind of disconnected–so I never really got deep into the Kali ritual. However, it was incredibly interesting to be an outsider for that: almost every single person crammed into that room was transported! I think a good bit of that was due to Chandra’s really amazing leadership. That woman can command! And she has a great style about it, too: a little teasing, but without breaking the gravity of what she’s doing. By the end of the ritual, I half wanted to move to the Bay area just so I could be a student of hers.
And that brings me to Anastasia Nutt’s Mothers of Change. It was the last event I attended, and I did so after several nights of less-than-perfect sleep, several days of wild experiences, and a whole morning full of packing up my stuff and arranging D.’s car for the drive back to Eugene. Needless to say, I was a bit cranky and disposed to be a little critical. When I entered the space, I immediately thought the workshop would be silly. My first impression of Nutt was that she was the sort of Pagan one might describe as “airy fairy”. In retrospect, I think I got that impression in part because of her physical appearance–she’s a petite, slim woman with long, flowing hair and a penchant for flowing skirts–and in part because of her talking style. She takes care to speak slowly and clearly, making eye-contact with everyone in the space, but she also moves her hands with each word she speaks. The overall effect comes off as slightly disingenuous.
That’s exceptionally unfortunate because, as I learned about halfway through the opening of the session, Anastacia Nutt is an excellent teacher, and there’s nothing disingenuous about her. She had asked each of us in the room to share a fear, and she really listened to each person. She was totally involved in everyone’s responses…and I know how hard that is to do! Often times when I do something similar in my own classes, I’m half-listening while I simultaneously scan the other students for their interest levels, watch the clock to manage time, think about how I can connect the gist of what the student is saying to the main theme and to the responses of others, and about a dozen other things.
This deep listening skill of Nutt’s had a slightly unintended consequence. After one woman spoke, Nutt–who had clearly been listening–remarked that what the woman had shared was not a fear and asked her if she could try to share as the others had done. Nutt was incredibly gentle and kind about the whole thing, but the woman–who was a little off her rocker–ended up exploding and storming out of the room. It was her loss, though, because eventually we went through a beautiful ritual/meditation that ended up focusing on Miryam, or the Virgin Mary. By the end of it, I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. I actually had to wash up and get a drink of water before meeting Z. to leave the Con. I think that someday soon I will acquire the little book and CD Nutt has created about these Mothers.
So that was basically my experience of PantheaCon in a nutshell. I didn’t do much networking or anything…so I ended up feeling awfully lonely by the end, which was an exceedingly peculiar feeling given that I was probably in the highest concentration of like-minded folk I’ll probably ever be in. If (when) I go to a future convention, I’ll probably try to do a little more connecting.
In case there is interest, these are .pdf files of the 2012 PantheaCon program and a short satire of program I found on an information table, which I found to be hysterical: PantheaCon 2012 Program and the Panty-Con 2012 Program.