Nine days, whether I’m ready for it or not . . . . . . Welcome to Winter Festival Season 2014 at the Mankey household! As I write this my wife is cranking XTC’s Green Man in our living room as she puts the finishing touches on her Dance with the Greenman workshop. I’ve got books scattered all over the house; they’re on the couch, the bed, and I think Owen Davies’ Popular Magic is in our kitchen. This time of year is both a delight and a nightmare. It’s delightful to see far-flung friends, take in new experiences, and share the projects I’ve been working on. It’s nightmarish in that I’m never sure if the projects I’m presenting are ready for public consumption.
For the tenth year in a row I’ll be at the PantheaCon festival in San Jose California, with a trip to ConVocation just outside of Detroit Michigan just thirty-six hours later. In some ways both of them are “hometown” gatherings for me. I currently live outside of San Jose and I used to live just two hours from Detroit. Five years ago I flew to PantheaCon and drove to ConVocation, now it’s all reversed. Both gatherings are held at Double Tree hotels too, and with one on top of another, I have gotten my room keys mixed up before.
I often feel like it’s kind of dishonest and unfair to write about Pagan Festivals and Gatherings on Raise the Horns. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy festivals whole heartedly, but the number of people who get to go to these events is just a tiny fraction of Modern Pagandom. If there are two million Pagans in the United States and a combined attendance between these two February festivals of 3500 . . . . . well that represents a very generous .18%* of American Pagans (and there are a lot of Canadians who go to both events). When people get upset or pissed off reading about PantheaCon on Twitter and in the blogosphere I totally get it. It’s not the center of the Pagan universe, and I completely realize that no matter how all-consuming it is for me personally at the present moment.
Creating, preparing, and presenting a workshop is almost always a long journey of discovery. I tend to submit workshops to festivals months before I write them (why write something if I’m not going to be able to share it?) so sometimes the written description of whatever I’m presenting varies greatly from the end product. I usually begin thinking about new lecture topics in May and then start doing some research over the summer. Festivals in February ask for workshop submissions in September and then announce their decisions about what’s accepted and what’s not in November. That means December and January are generally reserved for creating lecture notes and finishing up whatever research I need to do. It’s actually a pretty small window in which to get everything done.
This year I’ve been most focused on a workshop entitled Finding the God: Archetypes of Deity in the Modern Craft. I thought it was going to be an easy presentation to put together, that assumption was completely wrong. Instead of reading a little Carl Jung and then adding some stories about me and The God, it grew into an completely all over the board search for the gods commonly used on The Wheel of the Year. I went back in time to Indo-European culture, and then gave some old stalwarts like Margaret Murray, James Frazer, and Robert Graves a thorough re-reading. After that I spent some time with a couple of English folk-ballads and the band Traffic before moving onto Sixteenth Century witch hunts. How this holds together is beyond me, but it all seemed like a good idea at the time.
The research part of writing workshops can be fun. I learned a lot during my time with the Indo-Europeans, and some of the things I uncovered there were particularly surprising. Murray and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe was even crazier than I remembered it being, so while it wasn’t exactly enjoyable it was at least interesting. Reading and researching is something I genuinely enjoy, writing notes is not. I despise writing notes and I try to put it off for as long as possible. I wish I was a good enough speaker that I could just talk, but I need some organization, and I need to know I’m not just pulling information out of my ass, twelve pages of notes is the only way I can do that.
In addition to teaching and ritualizing (I’m presenting a different ritual at both festivals) I simply need a week of festival every winter. It gives me a chance to recharge the Pagan batteries, flirt shamelessly, and put a meaningful dent in my hard cider stockpiles. I love the energy and inspiration I take home with me after nine full days of Pagan immersion (with one day in between to wash my underwear), and I’m not sure I could sustain my writing without it. Instead of taking a break from the world I spend most of my waking hours in, I jump right into the deep end of it.
If you are one of the lucky .18% hopefully we’ll run into each other over the next two weeks. For everyone else I’ll be posting a little less frequently, but I’ve got some good stuff coming up. All right, I’ve got another page of notes to slog through . . . . .
*The actual number is 0.17500000000000002
1. A fan from last year’s Feri Tent Revival at PantheaCon, a ConVocation badge, and notes to one of my presentations.
2. My lovely wife (I can’t believe it either!) photo by Michael Baxter.
3. Me “teaching” at PantheaCon 2013. I assume this is me reading an excerpt from The Wind in the Willows.