I’m in a relationship with Festivals – and it’s complicated.
I teach, present, and perform at all kinds of events, big and small, specialized and general, indoor and out. But I’m also an introvert who cherishes their own space and quiet time, being comfortable and under the radar, and enjoys often just observing versus participating. Events can be exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally – not only in doing them, but from dealing with whatever drama may be circulating around them – because people. Yet events play a vital role in how my partner and I make our living – they’re a place to network, share ideas with other, and sell our work in the form of art, books, and music. So I have a keen interest in them.
I’ve been preparing for the end of PantheaCon for more than a year now. How is that possible when it was just announced a few days ago? It could have been the vivid dream I had, the logical writing on the proverbial wall, or having watched similar events in the realm of bellydance end (also largely based in California) cease to exist. Likely a mixture of a lot of things because I tend to watch how threads interweave and intuit the pattern – which is part of being a Witch in my world.
There’s a lot of personal history for me tied up with that event. The first PantheaCon I attended was in 2002, shortly after I had moved to the Bay Area – my friend and I were there to promote Crescent Magazine. I remember reading about PCon in Drawing Down The Moon and other Pagan magazines at the time, so it was a big thing to finally be there. That first year I met a really intimidating lady who has become one of my dearest friends. Over the next several years I would participate by vending, teaching ritual movement, and presenting ecstatic dance rituals such as A Ritual for Kali Ma, Dancing with the Djinn, and the Red God Revel. In 2007 I moved to the east coast, and I didn’t attend or participate in another PCon again until 2014 where Nathaniel and I presented Dreaming the Raven: A Morrigan Ritual Dance Experience. In the years that followed, I would get a response from vending my art that blew me away and affirmed my path, met the awesome lady who opened the lid to the cauldron for my first book, teach the sigil workshop that directly led to my next book, pack the largest ballroom for Hekate at the Crossroads, and lose my voice for two weeks after taking on the goat-footed deity in A Revel For Pan. Not to mention all of the folks and faces I connected with over the years.
Some really amazing things truly, but I can also pinpoint incredible, powerful, and transformative moments at so many other events too – big and small. And especially after traveling extensively all over the country for the last several years, I firmly believe that while PCon has been influential in some ways (for better or for worse), it’s not really on the radar for most practitioners. As John Beckett talks about in his recent blog post – outside of the Bay Area and some related groups, there’s a lot more happening elsewhere. I’m probably a bit more sensitive (and annoyed) by the flawed perception of California as the taste-maker than the average person. Mainly because I was Cassandra on a soapbox for years telling the bellydance community that amazing things were happening elsewhere in the world as well, and to stop thinking of a single festival or two the guiding light for all that’s cool. It was simply not true nor healthy, to say the least.
Comparatively though, PCon ending is not some sign of a Pword apocalypse. I’m sure there are some folks dragging out their abused deceased equines to cry “Paganism is dying!” yet again. Sorry/not sorry, but nope.
There are some really incredible events happening all over to suit nearly any path and preference – and I think we’re going to continue to see an uptick in new events that will likely even be better suited for addressing the needs of their local or path-specific communities.
There really isn’t a mystery as to why some events succeed and others go away either – and it involves multiple elements.
Here’s my list of what should be considered for any event:
– What do people want from an event? Are they looking for social connection, fellowship, education and learning opportunities, religious or spiritual experiences, or fantasy/escape from the mundane?
– What does the event offer that is unique or special? What experience can attendees expect?
– Is the language and imagery inclusive, specific, or defining for the purpose of the event?
– How will the event get the word out so people know about it?
– Is the event both financially and energetically sustainable where all participants feel respected and appreciated for their involvement?
– Is the event designed to stay current and receptive to the needs of its intended community?
And yes, I know I’m using that blasted word community a lot – and in no way am I referencing a cohesive, combined, monolithic over-group of people. I’m going for “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” It’s often much more fluid than rooted, but common elements pull together regardless.
The amount of common threads (individuals) is also on the rise – that you can’t describe as a “market” when it’s really a surge in consciousness. More and more people are finding themselves open to rediscovering the metaphysical, their own power, and their connection to the world around them. We can share ideas on the interwebs, but nothing can replace the in-person experiences that an event can bring.
I don’t believe any one event or festival defines a community. I do know that any time you gather together individuals to share physical space, there is an opportunity for real magick to happen. For the space of a day or a few days – we emerge out of our own bubbles and bump into other people, ideas, and possibilities, convening together in that moment uniquely, unlike any time before or after. But we must venture out into that real time and space for it to happen, meeting face to face, eye to eye, spirit to spirit. Whether that’s 10, 100, or 1000 people, each becomes for that time and space a community. That is a cause for celebration – and you must be present to win.
There may be wonderful things that emerge out of any gathering, and there will definitely be hard learning experiences that hopefully forge better experiences and wisdom in the future as well. It is up to us to decide what will take flight and brought into the future, and what empty husks will be left behind as reminders of the past.