Pagans Across America: Good Folks Are Everywhere

Pagans Across America: Good Folks Are Everywhere June 25, 2019

As an author who likes to travel I get more opportunities than most to see the wider Pagan world in the United States. By the time we get to the end of August I will have travelled to twelve different festivals and talked to probably over 1000 individuals (if i count ritual and workshops as “talking to”). There are mundane rituals to go to festivals, I have books to sell, but I mostly go simply because I like them.

I like taking to Druids, Pagans, Witches, Heathens, and whoever else I happen to come across. I think Paganism is better when we are all Pagans together instead of separate groups of whatever our traditions are. We are not a perfect community by any means, but I do honestly believe we are a community full of good people, and that we all have something to offer.

Black Philip monitors the main ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

Pagans Are a Resilient Bunch

I have been to a great many festivals that have included far too much rain. This past week in College Corner Ohio at Circle’s Pagan Spirit Gathering, I was at another one. Over the course of less than 48 hours PSG got an entire month’s worth of Ohio rain! Not fun! The end result was a lot of (smelly) mud, tents with rivers running through them, and a main musical stage that was shut down for the duration of the festival.

However, Pagans are a durable bunch, and most people met the challenges presented to them by rolling up their sleeves and wearing a smile. People set up homemade (tarp) slip’n’slides to celebrate the rain, and neighbors assisted neighbors. This past May at Heartland Spirit Gathering when rain turned several campsites into mud pits, festivities were simply moved to drier spots (with roofs!). There are always a few people who make the decision to leave when faced with torrential rains (and I get it when your tent has spent a few hours underwater), but there are far more who make the best of the situation.

Camp Gaea in the morning.

This can do behavior has been a part of every festival I’ve ever attended, and most circles. Our opportunities to TRULY be Witches and Pagans are often limited, so why let Mother Nature put a stop to it? Besides, aren’t we nature worshippers or at least lovers? Rain and mud are a part of nature, and while the latter is not anyone’s favorite, it can’t always be avoided.

Pagans Are Mostly Good People, Everywhere

“Are you worried about doing a Pagan festival in Tennessee?” a few friends asked me when I told them I was visiting Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) this year. Worried about a festival? Why would I be worried about a festival?

Tennessee Woods at Pagan Unity Festival.

I think there are a lot of big misconceptions about Southern and Midwestern Pagans out there, and most of them have no basis in reality. Are there probably more conservative GOP-voting Pagans in the South than other parts of the United States? Probably? Has that reality ever impacted behavior at an open Pagan festival or gathering I’ve attended? Absolutely not.

I find Southern Pagans to be just as open and accepting as Pagans on either coast, or anywhere else for that matter. Issues of inclusivity matter there, just like they do here in California. Acceptance of LGBTQ folks isn’t a talking point, it’s a value held in the hearts of most festival goers. This was most certainly true at PUF, a festival that had some of the most welcoming and accepting folks I’ve ever met. In fact, I’ll take this all a step further, the conversations I’ve had at PUF and other places outside of the coasts are identical to the ones I’ve in San Francisco and New York.

Paganism is Changing, But it’s Certainly Not Dying

A few years ago there were a couple of bloggers lamenting the decline of Paganism. I doubted such a thing was going on then, and I doubt it now. The festivals I visit are full of good people doing great work. That work is now being handled by more and more folks too-across the generations. Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Generation Z are all actively involved in event planning these days, and that’s something I experience everywhere I go.

It’s true that we don’t value all voices equally. Put together a panel of “Famous Pagans” and it will most likely be dominated by Baby Boomers (as a Gen X’er it feels like it’s taken a long time to get to the adult table), but I think that’s slowly changing. Platforms like Instagram and Youtube have created an entirely new generation of “Famous Pagans” unknown to many of us over 35, and they are taking the Craft and this community I love so much to new places.

For years people have lamented the lack of “young adults” at Pagan Festivals, and it’s a very real phenomenon. But there have always been reasons for that lack of presence, mostly that the ages most likely to be under-represented in things are off getting married, finishing their education, having children, and dealing with new jobs and most often crushing student debt. The age groups not seen at festivals have often been there in smaller numbers just do to the reality of life in one’s 20’s or early 30’s. (And even then, I see plenty of people in their 20’s and 30’s at festivals!)

I’m not sure outdoor festivals are the future of Pagan gatherings, but I expect them to be around long after I’m gone. There will always be folks who like to camp, and those that don’t. Not everyone was made to wear a smile in a thunderstorm, and that’s OK.

The Future of Skyclad Events

Back in May I wrote about the idea held by some that many of the bloggers at Patheos Pagan hate sex. I can’t speak for everyone, but I most certainly don’t hate sex, but I do dislike the way we articulate some ideas in ritual. In the comments section of that post someone mentioned that “skyclad festivals” were probably seen in an unfavorable light by those of us trying to update the Pagan phrase dictionary.

Lunar Moth at Pagan Unity Festival.

For the record, I like being skyclad. I’ve gone to a lot of festivals that include optional nudity, and not only has it never bothered me, I’ve often participated in it. Being naked is fun, but it’s something I enjoy more in theory than in practice. I just look better wearing a shirt than I do in nothing at all.

Even though I enjoy the option of nakedness at many festivals, it’s a practice I don’t believe will be around in twenty years. There are many folks younger than me who don’t seem to be fans, and the amount of people I see walking around skyclad has only declined over the last twenty years. To me it often feels like a relic of an earlier age, and one that most people aren’t actively looking for. It also limits the spaces where a festival can be hosted, especially if an event can’t be held on private Pagan land. I’m going to also assume that skyclad events raises the cost of insurance.

Shrine at Camp Gaea in Kansas.

OTHER NOTES

It’s been a crazy couple of months. I spent the second half of May at both Pagan Unity Festival, but also Heartland Pagan Gathering. After a week spent at home, I then went to INATS, the International New Age Trade Show to sign some books for Llewellyn (and talked to even more great people!). After getting home I celebrated my wife’s birthday with a little out of town trip, before flying off to Pagan Spirit Gathering. Somewhere in there I also sent a new book to Llewellyn.

Signing the arm of a “fan,” Divine Hand Jim.

I used to write extensively about festivals on this blog, but it often felt like a wasted endeavor. Most people don’t care, and that’s fine. But I will say that I think Pagan festivals are important, and the ones I’ve visited this year have all been outstanding. I felt like everyone I met went above and beyond not only to be nice, but to genuinely treat me as a friend.

There’s a lot of Summer left, if you can, visit a festival or event in your neck of the woods. I think you’ll find lots of good people there too.

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