Writing a "Post Insert Con Here Update" has nearly become an expectation. Every blogger who visits a major Pagan Festival, whether it be Pantheacon or Convocation tends to do it, and as I'm not always a very original thinker, I'm doing the same. The only difference between me and most of those other bloggers is that I'm brave (dumb?) enough to hit both. So yeah, two Pagan Festivals, eleven days, and a whole lot of exhaustion. Welcome to my world.
Until this year I had never really noticed that it's not "Pantheacon" and that the organizers spell it "PantheaCon," with the upper case "C" at the end. I guess there are always lots of things I don't notice about PantheaCon, probably because it's just so big and overwhelming. This year they had about 2500 attendees (I've been in towns with less people), and almost 300 workshops, panels, concerts, etc., and that doesn't even count the off the grid parties in various rooms and suites. So yeah, overwhelming, but always oh so rewarding.
This year was a very different PantheaCon experience for me because I ended up staying in a hospitality room on the second floor. Hospitality Rooms are basically a way for groups to distribute literature, information, and to promote themselves. As a newly minted resident of the Bay Area's South Bay, I thought it was important to try and promote some of the groups I hang out with down here. For the uninitiated, the San Francisco Bay Area is composed of several moving parts, and in the Pagan world it's the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland) that tends to host the most Pagan events. Since I believe in staying in your backyard, I thought that reminding the world that Paganism exists in the South Bay was a noble idea.
The idea was noble, but not all that I hoped it would be.
If you run a hospitality room, PantheaCon wants that room to be open for large parts of the day, fair enough, but since I hadn't thought everything through very well, I started to feel like I was trapped in the room. I had many people from my local community tell me that having our "own room" made the festival for them, and for that I'm happy, but sometimes I just wanted to close the door and decompress, or head out in search of mischief elsewhere. What I should have done was sign people up to be in charge of the room for various chunks of time, but as I was new to all of this it didn't occur to me beforehand. It wasn't a complete disaster or anything, and I did have some fun singing along to various rock songs in the room and engaging in esoteric conversation there, but if I do it again, it'll be done differently.
What's most important to me about PantheaCon are my workshops, and those took up nearly my entire Saturday. Presenters at PantheaCon don't generally do more than one workshop a day, somehow I ended up doing two workshops in a pretty compressed period of time. I did one at 3:30 pm and a second one at 7:00 pm. I've done that kind of thing before, but since PantheaCon is so much bigger than any other festival, each workshop takes more out of me.
When I present I generally want to lay it all out on the floor. In a figurative sense I want people to leave my workshops with the feeling that they are taking a little piece of my soul with them. I want to end the thing with my guts spilled out on the floor, with every ounce I had to give given freely. I honestly believe in really putting myself out there, and burning up every ounce of RedBull and Hard Cider in my system while doing it. Sometimes I feel like I achieve all that, and sometimes I don't, but it's always the goal.
Every year I also tend to favor one of my workshops over the others. Sometimes that's because it's a "new" one, other times it's because some of them are just closer to my heart. This year I was favoring my Drawing Down the Moon: The Mechanics of Invoking Deity above all the others. I had a lot of reasons for favoring this workshop: I had been working on it for over a year, and because I think the practice of DDtM is vitally important. "Nailing" that workshop was my number one goal of the weekend, before cider, the ladies, selling books, or promoting the South Bay.
While I had a lot of energy invested in it, I also had a lot of fears about it. The biggest fear was that no one would show up for it. DDtM was scheduled at 3:30 pm that Saturday, the same time as workshops from Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimiassi, and Orion Foxwood (yes Midwesterners, you've never heard of Orion Foxwood, but he's a huge deal out here), in addition to those heavy hitters there were another eight workshops going on at the same time. To make matters worse I was presenting in what some of my friends call a "Rockstar Room." The Rockstar Rooms are the biggest rooms at Pcon, holding 100 or so people. I was legitimately worried that I'd be presenting to 15 people in a cavernous space; my soul crushed and my insides bruised, but that was only one of my many fears.
Drawing Down the Moon is an intensely personal thing, and by talking about something so personal I thought the workshop had the potential to piss people off, or at least upset them. An experience with deity is always going to be unique to each individual, to try and sum up all of those different unique feelings in an hour would be near impossible. My best hope was that people would forgive me for my transgressions with their experiences while not leaving in the middle of my presentation. My workshop also contained a section on practices that bear a resemblance to Drawing Down the Moon in other faith traditions, traditions I'm not an expert on. Getting corrected in the middle of a workshop sucks, and since I was going to comment on Voudun and the Golden Dawn I was pretty sure that someone was going to interrupt me.
So there are three fears laid bare, and there is still one to go, the fear of the unknown. I know how long my Horned God and Pan workshops are, and I can nearly do them blindfolded, but this workshop was all new. As a new workshop I wasn't sure how long it actually was going to be, or whether the various sections of it would link up properly. I also tend to throw in a few personal bits and stories (especially at the beginning), I wasn't even sure those would work since I had never really spoken about some of those experiences before.
One thing I had complete confidence in was a ridiculous pre-workshop slideshow designed to mimic those obnoxious "Did you Know?" type presentations you find in movie theaters before the previews start. The moment it started the laughter was loud and noticeable. The whole dumb idea went over far better than I thought it would too. People seemed to enjoy seeing a graphic that said "Did you Know?" with the statement "Jason will probably be sober for this workshop" underneath it. The whole thing worked so well that I thought about not doing the actual workshop at all and just leaving people with the slideshow, but I thought I might get in trouble for that, so I proceeded with the workshop.
One of the most amazing Pagan experiences I've ever had was when I first felt the power of the Goddess during a Drawing Down the Moon ceremony. Our High Priestess that night literally glowed in the darkness, there was an energy radiating from her that I had never felt before, and have only really felt a few times since then. Part of Modern Paganism's appeal is that it offers its practitioners an opportunity to literally interact with deity, to find joy and fear and awe and love in the presence of the gods. That's a lot of what I was hoping to articulate at my workshop, and when relating that story nearly brought me to tears, I considered the mission accomplished.
I don't usually cry while presenting, but I think I did for just a second at PantheaCon. A lot of the things I present are "just for fun." They are things I find interesting, and sometimes transformative, and while I hold many of those things close to my heart, they don't move me. Talking about the power of the Goddess while inside of her human vessel moves me. Reciting a few paragraphs from The Wind in the Willows about the Great God Pan moves me. Paganism is religion, Paganism is interaction with deity, Paganism makes me laugh, smile, cry, and tremble, and my faith moves me, and when I find myself, on a good day, able to articulate that passion I feel very good about myself. So if you were wondering how my workshop went, I think it went well.
If no one had said anything to me about it when I was done, I still would have thought it went fine, but at the end I had a big line of people wanting to buy books, and they don't buy books if you suck. In some ways that's "proof" of not going over like a lead balloon. My friend Angus summed up my workshop with these words: "Anyway, his presentation on Drawing Down the Moon was vintage Mankey: Peerless research coupled with a totally bonkers presentation. He traced the concept of invoking deity across the arc of History and across all the cultures of the world, illustrating it all with wonderful slides and sprinkling his trademark Junior High level humor throughout. It was like the History Channel had been overtaken by Beavis and Butthead." (I think he meant all of that as a positive.) I even got a "Best in Show" award on the Doing Magick blog for having the best workshop at PantheaCon. Since Robert is someone I truly respect and have admiration for, it's a high honor.
I ended up back in my hotel room around five, and after a workshop I tend to keep to myself (or cuddle with Ari) and decompress. Since I was in the hospitality room I couldn't do that, so I entertained people and had a cider. In what seemed like ten minutes I made my way back to one of the "Rockstar Rooms" to give my "Alcohol: Elixir of Life" workshop. The Alcohol Workshop is one I put together a year or so ago, and one I'm not all that happy with. I originally wanted to do a workshop on how Ancient Pagans used alcohol in religious practice. Since alcohol was such a large part of their lives, I could never find a way to truly unravel the mundane use of alcohol from the spiritual. So instead of being a workshop on alcohol in religion, it instead became more of a general history of alcohol in the Ancient World, plus a bit on its use in Monotheistic Religion. It's not a bad workshop, it just didn't turn out exactly how I wanted to.
Since I was pretty wiped out, I can't say that my 7:00 presentation was all that great. It was sort of fun, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't my best moment. I had been so passionate about the previous one, that I didn't have a whole lot of energy left over. Talking about alcohol is fun, but I'm not passionate about it. I also had about half the class size that I had at 3:30, not surprising since I was up against some rituals, dinner, and a whole host of other things. My favorite part of that workshop is the term "social jollification" which is a phrase the early Mormon Church used when having a drinking party. They believed that alcohol provided social jollification, and I'm going to do my damnedest to bring that phrase back.
I'm sure I did other things Saturday night at Pantheacon (usually the height of the festival), but I don't remember what they were. By midnight I was running on less that fumes, I think the car was just stuck in neutral and was only moving because I was going downhill (or being dragged around). Ari was out until three, so someone was keeping the Mankey flag waving.
Sunday was a pretty low key day, and offered me a chance to just talk with some people and hit some workshops. Sunday morning I got my "fanboy" on and went to a Philip Heselton talk. Heselton is a historian and researcher who has done a great deal to shed some light on the origins of Modern Witchcraft. To say he's one of my favorite authors would be understating it a little bit. I got there pretty late (I slept for a small eternity), and ended up with a horrible seat and couldn't quite make out all of his slides, but no biggie, most of the pictures he showed I've already seen. I did get a little bit irritated that people kept interrupting Heselton while he was talking. Anyone who presents workshops on the early Craft tends to get interrupted, and I don't get it. Yes, we know you are smart too, but if you want to present your own workshop, then by all means do so.
After Heselton I had lunch at what Angus calls "Cafe Ho-Hum," (the mediocre in-hotel restaurant) with Robert from the Doing Magick blog I linked to above. I only see Robert once a year at Pantheacon, and I always try to make sure I carve an hour out of the schedule to chat with him. He's much of a ceremonial magician than I am, so I always appreciate his rather different perspective on spirituality. Post-lunch Ari and I went on a vendor room shopping spree, spending far more than we ever dreamed we would. Surprisingly we didn't buy any statues, but we did get window treatments, clothes, crowns for ritual, and a bunch of other stuff. I don't think I bought any books either which is very weird for me.
Dinner was spent with Community Seed (Pagans from Santa Cruz) before heading to Club Max(!) to see Angus do "Pagan Humor IV: A New Hope." (Club Max is a club in the hotel, usually reserved for the mundane folks on the weekend, and had never been used at Pantheacon before.) What is Pagan humor? It's comedy from a Pagan, and let me tell you, Angus is just born to do it. I laughed so hard that I cried a few times. He also insulted every car I've ever owned. I don't give praise lightly, and I never imagined that I would give a giant thumbs up to a Pagan humorist, but I'm doing it. If you ever get a chance to catch Angus, go do it. One of these years I want to take him out East with me and show him off at other Pagan Festivals.
Sunday Night I actually went out and tried to party a bit, but I just wasn't feeling it. I really missed the usual "Green Fairy Party," nothing compares. There were lots of folks trying to pick up the slack, but the vibe was different. Eventually the party I was at got invaded by hotel mundies. Have to give credit where credit is due though, the Pagan Alliance folks went out of there way to be hospitable, and it was a good place to decompress and drink for a few hours.
Monday morning Ari and I shared an elevator with T. Thorn Coyle who smiled at me and said "I didn't know Dionysus drank coffee in the morning." I didn't know that T. Thorn Coyle knew anything about me! I had big stupid grin on my face after that the rest of the morning and it made the packing and leaving that much easier. Coyle is a top-notch writer, someone I deeply respect in the community, and a fantastic presenter and ritualist. So yay to me I guess.
For those of you who keep up with the Pagan blogosphere, you are probably aware of the controversy stemming from Z. Budapest's "genetic women only" ritual Sunday night at Pantheacon. In addition to the ritual, there was also a "sit in" outside of it, protesting the exclusion of trans-gendered women. The link above is a great place to get caught up on the issue, and while I have opinions about it, I'm not sure I have much to offer the conversation.
Paganism has always been exclusionary, and as an initiatory tradition that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Not everyone who wants to be initiated into a traditional group gets to do so, and a coven based on "perfect love and perfect trust" is always going to be selective, and that's as it should be. However, those groups don't tend to offer public rituals where credentials are checked at the door. There's a time and a place for everything, and then there are times and places where perhaps some things shouldn't be done. I'm of the opinion that if someone thinks of themselves as a woman, then they should be allowed to go to a woman's only ritual in a public space. I'm not arguing that a group can't exclude someone, just that exclusion should probably not be occurring at an open festival. It's not my festival and I don't make the rules, and on the plus side, the controversy does open up a dialogue, one which I hope will be beneficial to the entire community.
How many words is this? Too many. I'll write about Convocation later this week.