On Monday I returned from the 2012 PantheaCon in San Jose, the largest annual indoor gathering of modern Pagans in North America. This is my third year attending the event, and for me it has become not so much about the panels and presentations, though they are often wonderful, enlightening, and oft-times challenging, but about connecting and reconnecting with the people I write about, network with on social media, or collaborate with in organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary or the Pagan Newswire Collective. PantheaCon is part of the glue that holds “Pagan community” together, that rare occasion when you actually see and experience members of The Sisterhood of Avalon hanging out with Thelemites, Feri initiates sharing drinks with Asatru, and ritual magicians discussing their work with Vodouisants. For that alone, Glenn Turner and the convention staff deserve special praise and recognition.
I think it’s vital to contextualize the uniqueness of PantheaCon, because we can sometimes lose focus on how important this event has become to so many, and just what a hothouse of our movement’s vast diversity and creativity is on display year after year. That PantheaCon succeeds where others fall short in mingling groups that can often have vastly different ideas about practice, theology, politics, and worldview. Because of this success it has become an unofficial annual meeting place of our movement’s leaders, clergy, scholars, and activists. Understandings are built, grudges resolved (and sometimes formed), and new projects hatched from talk over dinner, or in hurried conversations between presentations. If one had the time, and the people-power, a year’s worth of stories could be written from just these four days of intense activity. Due to all this, when controversies do arise, they tend to amplify throughout our movement, our interconnected community.
This year, debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest, complicating a dialog begun on the issue of gender and transgender within modern Paganism the year before, re-exposing raw emotions and hurts from both sides that we as a community are still in the process of acknowledging, understanding, and responding to. These events have sparked a lot of comment and reaction by those watching from the outside, and I think it is necessary to begin by listening to the voices that were in attendance, and who directly participated in the events the Pagan community are now discussing.
- First, here is T. Thorn Coyle explaining why she decided to organize a peaceful, silent meditation outside Z. Budapest’s ritual at PantheaCon. Thorn’s reasoning was expanded upon in a follow-up post written after the ritual and protest happened.
- Yeshe Rabbit, High Priestess of CAYA Coven, who this year co-led an inclusive ritual open to all, and who held ritual space between the sitters and the scheduled ritual, has posted about her own reactions to the controversy. Earlier, Rabbit had questioned the need for protest, but now describes the action as “moderated, noble, disciplined, and poised.”
- Z. Budapest has not commented at length since the ritual, though you can read part of the prepared apology she gave before the ritual, and that convention staff distributed, at PNC-Bay Area. Her earlier call for support in the face of silent protest can be found at her Facebook page. The alleged statement from last year that helped fuel protest this year can be found, here. It should be noted that PantheaCon staff is now investigating all comments attributed to Z. Budapest for veracity.
- Robert at the Doing Magick blog witnessed the silent protest, took some photos, and shared his thoughts on the matter.
- Lupa, who attended the silent sitting protest, shares her reactions and reflections, with updates, at her Livejournal. She has also posted a follow-up where she clarifies her stance on cis-women only rituals.
- PNC-Minnesota has posted a letter to the editor from a woman at PantheaCon who wanted to attend Z’s ritual, but was discouraged from doing so by news of the protest.
While things unfold, I want The Wild Hunt to be a space where all voices can come to be heard, in hopes of encouraging productive dialog and working towards understandings that collectively enrich us. As someone who sits atop the pyramid of privilege in our society, I hesitate to offer off-the-cuff opinions or solutions, and instead hope to be an advocate for transparency, renewed dialog, and building respect between all parties. Considering the thoughtful responses I’ve seen so far from those involved, I want the emphasis to be on their voices, not mine. In the weeks to come I am committed to listening and documenting, to being a resource for those engaged in the direct work.
In the year leading up to the 2013 PantheaCon, I anticipate that The Wild Hunt will cover this matter extensively. I will also slowly unpack my own thoughts as they develop, and hope that I can offer additional light when it is called for. In addition, you can expect coverage of the many other events, panels, and presentations at PantheaCon, so that their good work is not lost amid this storm.
ADDENDUM: Teo Bishop from Bishop in the Grove, who sat with the protesters, has written up his experience of the evening. Working from notes taken that evening. It is matter-of-fact, and essential reading for anyone who is interested in what exactly happened.