My formative Pagan years were spent in the American Midwest. I discovered Paganism while in college in the border state of Missouri, but I didn’t really start making sense of it until I moved to Michigan a couple of years later. It was in Michigan where I first began to meet other Pagans and Witches, engage in ritual, and form many of the friendships that would shape my life.
About seven years ago my wife and I moved to California, and that journey shaped my Pagan life again, just like the move to Michigan had fifteen years prior. To say that our practice was stagnating during our last few years in Michigan would be an over-statement. (And nearly everything I do in the Craft needs to be preceeded by “our,” my wife Ari is a full partner in this journey, and everything we do, we do together.) Our last full year in Michigan was when we were initiated into Gardnerian Witchcraft . . . . new vistas were opening up for us in our final years in Michigan, but sometimes you just know when it’s time to start a new chapter in life.
After a rough first year establishing ourselves in Silicon Valley my wife and I started a Witch circle at our house. Over several months that evolved into a coven, and is nearly its own weird eclectic tradition at this point. We weren’t quite done with Gardnerian Witchcraft either, and eventually started a Gardnerian coven in addition to our eclectic one. Our practice has deepened and sharpened since leaving the Midwest and it has made us better Witches (and people).
The Bay Area of California is known as a “Pagan Space” but more accurately it’s a series of Pagan Spaces, and I think that’s a major caveat. There are lots of competing traditions on the West Coast, and while I think we generally play well with each other, it sometimes feels like I’m in the middle of a contest to see who can gather the most students. I’ve seen “leaders” purposefully alienate individuals from groups and circles they are a part of. Is it done for some sort of altruistic purpose I’m unaware of or is it done to expand a sphere of influence?
Thinking of the Bay Area as a whole I see lots of different traditions, all with the attendant rituals and often workshops. There’s Reclaiming, several lines of Feri along with offshots, the California Line of Gardnerian Craft, several Druid and Heathen groups, Dianic circles, Polytheist traditions, an O.T.O. Temple and a Golden Dawn group . . . . It’s Pagan overload, and it’s spectacular, but it’s a series of communities instead of one community.
past weekend (when I initially started writing this it was the past weekend, by the time I finished this article it was a bit later) I was at the Earth Warriors Festival, a fantastic little gathering located between Columbus and Cincinnati Ohio. While I was there, I overheard Devin Hunter (who lives about an hour from me in California but who I only see out of state) talk about how this group of folks was his tribe, while commenting on how California is a series of communities. That I’m writing this and echoing his sentiments tells you how much I’m in agreement with him on this point.
One of the things I noticed at Earth Warriors were how many different traditions had gathered at this one festival. There were Heathens, Thelemites, Druids, Witches of a variety of hats, and they all knew each other and seemed to interact with each other on a frequent basis. That was always my experience in Michigan too. I don’t think it’s necessarily because there are less Pagans in the Midwest either, though things are a little more spread out. (Obviously there are going to be more Pagans in a town of one million than a town of one hundred thousand, but as a percentage I’m going to bet it’s the same.)I originally started this piece to wax philosophically about the advantage of the Midwest tribe over the communities of California’s Bay Area, but I think there is a bigger issue at play here. If the Pagan Community is going to continue to thrive, be healthy and be something more than lip service or an idea, its various parts have to interact with one another in person and in real time. Blogs and social media are not enough, there has to be a little flesh and blood interaction. This kind of thing happens in the Midwest with frequency, not so much in other places.
And I know there are reasons for some of it where I live, with most of them having to do with money, but I still think we’d be a better community if we interacted with each other more often. Even my area’s open eclectic circle is really just for Witches . . . . I’ll admit I’m often pretty happy in my Witch-bubble, but I think we learn more when we get outside those bubbles.
THOUGHTS FROM THE ROAD
As I write this I’m back in my old stopping grounds of Michigan. My journey started at Earth Warriors, a festival I’ve been blessed to visit twice now in the last four years. The folks are always nice, the campground is top notch, and there are always a lot of top quality presenters and musicians roaming around. This year there was Devin and Storm (previously pictured), along with Chas Bogan, Alaric Albertsson, SJ Tucker, Tonya Threet, and Jacki Smith (and lots more you can read about here).
Festivals are most often a reflection of the people who create and run them. If the people who put it together are accessible and nice, the festival will be too. Since Heather Killen is the driving force behind Earth Warriors it’s always been one of the most welcoming events in the country. I feel bad that I didn’t see Heather as much as I would have liked this trip East, but there were extenuating circumstances . . . .
. . . . Friday at Earth Warriors was one of the best days I’ve ever had at a festival, and then that night I could feel my head start to fill up with snot. Luckily my voice lasted long enough to finish up my Saturday workshop but my day wasn’t quite as a glorious as it might have been otherwise. Will I turn that Magick and the Occult in America workshop into a book? Maybe, perhaps eventually . . . . .
Speaking of thanks you, special thanks to Astrea Taylor for taking care of me while I was at EW and for driving me around Ohio.
Post Earth Warriors I visited a few local bookstores, and was just blown away by the crowd I had at Artes and Craft in Hartford Michigan. The idea that “if you build it they will come” has never been more true than at Artes and Craft. Hartford is a tiny Michigan town located next to nowhere, and yet there’s a vibrant community that revolves around this amazing store And when they say it’s the biggest Witch store in the Midwest, they aren’t kidding. It was chock full of treasures, rare books, and all sorts of goodies.
Want to know what else is cool? Being able to visit the Witch Shop you grew up in as an author. Triple Goddess Bookstore in Lansing Michigan is still probably responsible for half of my library and I got to sign books there.
This was the last trip on my calendar for 2017. Glad to be home until February . . . .