Damn You Con(s)!!! 20 Notes From February Pagan Gatherings

I always assumed that Captain Kirk said “Damn you Kaahhhnnnn!” somewhere in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but I’m not sure that he did. It’s not really all that important, I was just trying to find a clever title as I attempt to sum up about ten days of Indoor Pagan Festival. Since ConVocation (Detroit MI) and PantheaCon (San Jose CA) are only about 48 hours apart they often feel like one big long-lasting exhausting event. Eight workshops/lectures/panels/rituals over ten days, along with shenanigans, whiskey, and catching up with friends old and new. I certainly don’t mean to say “damn you” to either festival either. You both were lovely, perhaps better than ever before, but you have left me pretty drained and exhausted. I think you meant to do that though.

The following bullet points are just a few reflections, memories, observations, and various other musings from my PantheaCon and ConVocation experiences. An exhaustive recounting of both events is beyond my ability so I’m not even going to try. I do promise to keep things moving and interesting if you bother to read the whole thing.

1. PantheaCon is not the center of the North American Pagan Universe, but it feels that way sometimes. There are probably one or two million Pagans in the United States, and 2500 of them go to Pcon. That adds up to about .25%, an extremely tiny number. I know that a lot of you were probably sick and tired of reading about Pcon while it was happening on various social media platforms, and I totally get it, but . . . . . I do think that PantheaCon has become the only truly “national” Pagan Gathering in the country. Various people, various states, and when you walk through the hallways and spot Selena Fox, Lon Milo Duquette, Margot Adler, and David Salisbury in all of two minutes it’s obvious that you are someplace pretty special.

All of us who attend know that Pcon is not literally “the place where the Pagan Umbrella is litigated every year,” but it’s closer to that than anywhere else. It’s fuel for blog posts and books, and it’s where information and ritual outside of the written word are shared and then spread across many areas of the country. Most events are regional these days, Pcon stands alone as a national event, and the indoor atmosphere just lends its self to more discussion and person to person communication.

2. You want to hear some rambling and laugh a little bit too? Then check out the Patheos Pagan Intrafaith Panel (with Special Guests Jason Pitzl-Waters and Teo Bishop) Discussion from Pcon. I think it devolved into a discussion about the influence (or lack thereof) of blogging, and it probably needed some time limits on responses too, so I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but it was mostly fun to do. I think I pissed off a few people with some of my responses, but oh well. I sort of had a feeling that was going to happen.

3. I managed to avoid catching the cold and/or flu at both Cons! I know this doesn’t sound like much of an achievement, but ten days of not eating well and not sleeping enough usually results in a very sick Jason. Even four days of indoor festival often results in what is known to most of us as “Con Crud.” Hotels with their dry and constantly re-circulated air don’t help much either.

4. I think I work too hard, especially when some presenters use The History Channel and Wikipedia as primary sources during a presentation. Yeah, that happened at ConVocation this year, and I just can’t wrap my head around it. Maybe I take the speaking thing far too seriously, but I do consult academic works before speaking about anything, and I’d never use Wikipedia as primary source material. If you are going to talk about Freemasonry, Gerald Gardner, and the OTO you’d better know your material because you are going to get called out on it. The Pagan Community is too smart these days for anyone to get away with that kind of crap.

5. I am not an important Pagan, or we all use the same bathroom. Every once in awhile someone will come up to me and say something like “Jason, you are an important Pagan” and it’s just not true. We all have different skill sets and just because I do a little speaking and writing it doesn’t mean that I’m all that. I couldn’t speak and write unless other people listened to me speak and bothered to read my writing. None of us have a lock on the truth, and we all contribute in our own ways.

6. I did the 1899 Ritual at ConVocation and it was awesome. I think we had about 70 people in a room designed for half that number, and no one walked out of the ritual or demanded their money back. It was great, and special thanks to Valerie and Eva who were my Priestesses/Ritual Organizers last weekend. You both were amazing. You never know how a ritual is going to go when presenting it in a public place for the first time, and this one just worked.

7. It’s always good to remind yourself that you are walking the path you were meant to walk. I visited a Feri Ritual at Pcon and a Druid Rite at ConVocation, and while both rituals featured talented individuals, great ritual writing, surprisingly good music, and fantastic energy; it was all just further confirmation that I’m just not meant to be either a Feri Initiate or a Druid. I was meant to be a British Traditional Witch and that’s about it, but it’s good to be reminded of those things.

8. While I may not get the Feri Tradition, if you ever get the chance to see Jenya Beachy do anything, you should totally take advantage of it. Listening to her preach the Love of the Lady is an experience, and one I was glad I got to see and hear. Kudos to everyone involved with the Feri Tent Revival, it’s not every day one gets to mix old time gospel preaching, Lady Gaga, and Witchcraft. I admit I don’t really get your rituals, but you put on a hell of a show. Next time you should have some sweet tea available though.

9. Speaking of people I like and rituals I hate . . . . I love Druids but I hate their rituals. At both festivals I probably hung out with more ADF People than anyone else. ADF Folks are just consistently some of the smartest and nicest folks in all of Pagandom, they are also extremely hospitable. Not only will they let you steal their suite at Pcon (thanks Catilin), they’ll also share their scotch without hesitation (thanks Sean).

10. The vendors at Pagan Festivals often steal the show. At both ConVo and Pcon I found things I just couldn’t live without. Several years ago I thought “vending” at Pagan Gatherings was probably destined for the cold trash bin of history, but it seems to have rebounded the last couple of years. I think a lot of that is due to “Pagan Vending” spreading beyond the obvious of books and tarot cards. It’s a mask with antlers and grape leaves on it, and it’s made out of leather. Of course it’s coming home with me.

11. My Magic and the Occult in America 1820-1952 workshop was a big success. I hate talking about how great I can be, but this thing really turned out well. I was somehow able to insert a lot of scholarly material into 90 minutes of yammering, and all without putting anyone to sleep. The only downside was that I had too much material. I probably should have ended in 1900 or completely skipped a section or two, I didn’t have enough time to cover all the things I wanted to cover. For instance I had a long bit on Conjure that I wanted to share but I never found time for it at either festival, and I skipped large chunks of everything else I blabbered about as well. I’d love to be able to turn the workshop into an article (or seven) on Raise the Horns but I’m not sure I’m a good enough writer to pull it off. We’ll see.

12. It’s always daunting when there is someone a lot smarter than I am sitting in at one of my lectures. M. Macha Nightmare showed up to listen to me do the Magic and the Occult workshop while at ConVo, and I’ll admit it, it made me totally nervous. I was honored, but a little flustered. She also showed up to listen to me talk about the History of Modern Paganism a little later that same Saturday, which was a real blessing, because I pretty much needed the help.

13. On a lighter note, apparently Christopher Penczak often forgets my name and just refers to me as “The Panster.” None of the nicknames I end up with are ever insulting, which is nice. I’m not sure how I feel about being called “Bigfoot” but you know what they say about guys with big feet (they wear big socks, and I did a presentation on Bigfoot at ConVo last year). I’m also quite fond of “Golden God” even if it is a bit too pretentious for me.

14. Due to being completely tone deaf I shouldn’t sing in public, but I do it anyways. Two years ago at ConVocation I did a kick ass version of War Pigs and this year I tried to top it by attempting to sing Paradise City by Guns N Roses. I can’t sing a lick, but I am good at jumping around, acting like a maniac, and flashing the metal horns. Apparently this type of behavior results in a lot of good will during karaoke. I think I got more compliments on that performance than on some of my workshops.

I used to think it was weird that ConVocation made a big deal out of karaoke and a Saturday night dance, but it works surprisingly well. Both events are loose enough that they provide a really great neutral space to run into people at. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with someone during a concert or a lecture, and “group sponsored parties” can be a little cliquish from time to time, but no one is really going to get mad at you for talking over a recording at a dance. Those kind of events will never be the be all/end all of my nights, but they are extremely effective as a way to meet folks.

15. You may not know the name Melissa Hill quite yet, but one day you probably will. Mel(issa) is the Chief Liturgist of Cedarsong, an ADF Grove in Lansing Michigan, and she is just awesome. Smart, beautiful, witty, and while I’ll never like ADF style ritual, it’s a lot better when Mel is doing it. She doesn’t want to hear this, but she’s going to end up Arch-Druid of ADF one day, just wait.

16. Speaking of people everyone should know, Angus McMahan was again the highlight of PantheaCon for me. Blathering in front of 80 people is kind of fun, but it’s even more fun to just kick back, listen to someone else, and then laugh for a good solid 70 minutes. Angus is legitimately funny, and talented, and he deserves a bigger platform in order to share all of that with more folks.

17. It was great to meet so many of my fellow writers at Patheos Pagan. Until PantheaCon I don’t think I’d met any other Patheos Pagan writer face to face before, so it was nice to attach some personalities to the pictures and the words. I got to spend a nice Friday afternoon lunch with Christine Hoff Kraemer, and while I was worried that I probably offended her half a dozen times, this blog still exists so I guess we are good to go. To everyone else I hope we make the face to face meetings an annual thing.

18. I don’t think we thank festival organizers nearly enough. I can only imagine the kind of work that goes into planning festivals like PantheaCon and ConVocation and the thought alone makes me tired. There are so many moving parts to these things, but you barely notice all of it while attending. Just fantastic work at both festivals.

19. I got to do a workshop with Kenny Klein where we basically insulted each other for 90 minutes, and it was great. Kenny is the perfect foil, he doesn’t take it personally, and he has the wit and wisdom to keep up with my machine gun mouth. I don’t think we solved any of Greater Pagandom’s problems or issues, but we did have a rollicking discussion about who can call themselves a Wiccan and whether or not there is a place for Christo-Pagans in our community. Kenny is also cantankerous enough that I usually come out looking like the “nice one” and that hardly ever happens.

20. My favorite parts of any festival (besides Angus) are just the times when I get to hang with folks and talk “Pagan Shop.” I love Pagandom as a whole, and all the various smaller communities within it that I’m privileged enough to inhabit, even if that habitation is for a very small period of time. To everyone who extended a kindness, bought a book, and didn’t fall asleep while I was speaking, thank you thank you.

I talked to/at/with several hundred people over the last eleven days, and I feel blessed because of it. So many great Pagans, and it’s wonderful that you’ve all found space for me under the umbrella. I like standing beside nearly all of you.

I currently sound like I’ve recently gargled with rock salt so I’m going to walk away from my computer now and grab a cup of tea . . . . I regret nothing, even if I currently sound like a croaking frog.

Photos:
1. Me teaching a Pan workshop at ConVocation.
2. The Patheos Pagan Intrafaith Panel. In no particular order you’ll find Christine Hoff Kraemer, Eric Scott, Sarah Twichell, Crystal Blanton, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Steven Abell, and me.
3. That’s the altar we used for the 1899 Ritual
4. Jenya Beachy preaching up a storm.
5. My new mask from ArtSmyths.
6. A little head banging with DJ Tommy Toony.
7. Me and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
8. My favorite tat at Pcon, I’m so very jealous. You can’t go wrong mixing my favorite tarot card (The Hanged Man) and Old Horn Head.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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