I do a crazy amount of Pagan work in airport bars. There are a few reasons for this, the biggest being that I travel, a lot, and there’s always work to do (most of it related to Patheos). I’ve written blog posts at airport bars, formatted other blog posts, scheduled articles for social media, and engaged in all sorts of correspondence mundane and esoteric between bites of whatever chicken sandwich I’m eating.
But there’s another reason I like working at airport bars, I simply love the people I meet at them. I’ve had some of the craziest and amazing conversations at airport bars, and met all sorts of people I’d never run into otherwise. I end up chatting with lawyers and judges, people on their way to Mormon gatherings, and often traveling musicians (probably because I resemble one of them) on my layovers, and I’m just friendly (rude?) enough to try and engage everyone around me in some sort of conversation. I guess you could say I like talking to people.
That “liking to talk to people” thing is also why I like Pagan festivals so much. Most of my days are spent reading and writing about Modern Paganisms, but that’s never the same as talking about them, and perhaps more importantly, doing them. (There’s always at least a little “doing” at home, but not as much as what comes iwth a ritual.) I love the conversations about our communities, our practices, and our beliefs, even when they last long into the night and far past my bedtime.
These days everything seems to be a lightning rod in the Pagan Community, and festivals even more so than most other activities. I see friends of mine calling for boycotts of festivals that I attend, along with belittling the presenters and attendees of gatherings they disagree with. As a presenter I often find myself in the middle of such situations, unsure of what to say or do.
What most people don’t get about festivals, is that as a presenter I’m not there for the organizers, nor does my presence count as an endorsement of anyone. I go to Pagan festivals because I like the PEOPLE who go to Pagan festivals. I’m there to drink whisky and discuss whether or not Gerald Gardner (who some people think of as “the Dad of Wicca”) was initiated into a coven in 1939 or whether or not Harmony Nice is good for the Craft I love so much.
Much like using Facebook is not an endorsement of Peter Theiel or Mark Zuckerburg, attending a festival is not necessarily an endorsement of an organizer or organizing body. There are some places I’d never go of course, I’m not going to talk about Cernunnos at a racist skin-head gathering, but no one is going to ask me to do that anyways (and besides, I don’t think such extreme groups are truly a part of the “Pagan Community,” there are certain standards expected by 99% of us).
Nearly every festival I go to makes decisions that I disagree with. Sometimes those disagreements are about who is on the speaker schedule, and who has been left off, or in some cases removed. But if I only went to places where I completely agreed with everyone present, I’d never leave my house. There will always be someone out there we disagree with on some issue anywhere we go. To believe otherwise is either extremely short-sighted, or just plain foolish.
So I go to Pagan Festivals because I love the people who go to them. Sure, yes, I go to also promote my books and stuff, but I probably lose more money than I gain in such endeavours. Cider aint’ free, and I’m almost always happy to share my whisky too. I generally like all of you, and I expect that to continue.
-As I write this I’m in an airport bar in St. Louis, waiting for a connecting flight to Detroit Michigan for ConVocation. I’ve just come from PantheaCon, which takes place about eight miles from my house. PantheaCon is perhaps the most written about and critiqued festival in the entire Pagan world, and the months leading up to this year’s edition was no different. However, the festival itself was mostly free of anger and controversy. (I’m sure I’m about to ruin that by writing this piece!)
Edited to add: I hear that my positive experiences were not universal, and this should be something that concerns everybody. If people don’t feel “at home” during a festival we are all doing something wrong. We should be building inclusive communities, period.
I’ve been going to PantheaCon since 2005, and for me it’s mostly become a chance to catch up with friends near and far. California’s Bay Area Pagan Community doesn’t gather all that often, but we do once a year in San Jose, and socially, it’s always a highlight of my calendar. Because of Patheos Pagan and my life as a Pagan author it’s also a work trip, but I probably wouldn’t bother for four days if the event wasn’t full many of my favorite people.
Over the last few years, attendance at Pcon seems to be trending downwards, and I’m sure some will see that as a sign of Pagandom’s impending doom, but I disagree. There are more Pagan events now than ever, it’s just that more and more of them are geared towards particular traditions and/or geographic areas. Workshop attendance remained strong, as did sales in the vendor room. Besides, every gathering goes through peaks and valleys.
-I think I’ve written this before, but the large amount of attention spent on PantheaCon often overshadows other Winter/Spring festivals, most notably ConVocation. Michigan’s indoor event hosts a 1000 people or so every February, which remains an incredible number. It saddens me that for a festival to be talked about outside of its geographical area, it has to be looked at as controversial or contentious.
-I feel like we hang out together less and less as a “Pagan Community” these days and are more like a collection of communities that sometimes share a common roof. Most often we end up divided by tradition and political perspectives, and I’ll admit this saddens me a bit. I think our community is stronger when Witches hang with Heathens and Druids learn alongside Ceremonial Magicians and Devotional Polytheists. My most formative Pagan years were full of individuals from a variety of traditions and it all ended up making me a better person and Witch. Festivals are one of my favorite opportunities to get outside the Witch Bubble and into a bigger and greater Pagan space.
-Be good to each other!