Thinking About: Pantheacon and Pagan Gatherings

This past week, there was an announcement made that this coming Pantheacon would be the last. Now, there are quite a few folks who have never heard of Pantheacon. And many, many more that never got the chance to go to one. I made it three years in a row. To be honest, it was an interesting experience, to say the least. All kinds of Pagans, every flavor you could think of. Everywhere. Mingling, talking, laughing, learning, discussing, debating, having fun – because that is really what a convention experience should be like. There was literally something for everyone. Serious panels, panels that took a light-hearted approach, themed panels, concerts, music, and hospitality suites run by various groups. You could find food, drink, conversation, more teaching, more discussion. And none of that gets into the moment that the Krampus Walk gets upon you – and you had no idea what it was or that it was even coming — my first-year experience.

But to be honest, conferences are expensive beasts to run and maintain. From the cost of the hotel itself to all the other smaller details that go into it – putting these on gets expensive, in terms of money. Then there’s the sweat equity of the folks behind the scenes. Making sure that projectors, project screens, speakers, microphones, etc etc are in the correct places at the correct times and working correctly. Managing such mundane details as fire-code issues for room occupancy, maintaining a lost-and-found, providing information for people lost or overwhelmed in the hotel, mitigating issues on behalf of those booked at the hotel with the hotel staff – and the list goes on and on. Its quite an undertaking. I know. I have been there before.

Back at the beginning of Project Akon, I was the Security Director for the very first two conventions. The first convention went fairly easy, but at the second one, I had to deal with people throwing rocks from the rooftop into the swimming pool below, handling a few sticky-fingers issues within the dealer’s room, and a pair of drunken females wanting to disrobe at the pool in the early morning hours of the night. Each of those moments carried a shit-load of stress for me, and I was only in charge of a single group of volunteers (fifteen to be exact). In the case of both conventions, I think I got less than ten total hours of sleep over each three-day convention. Those days were tough, and I was completely exhausted by the end of it all, but it was grand fun for me. I got to meet and talk with cartoonist Tex Avery (scratch that, I got my “Tex’s” mixed up. It was Bill “Tex” Henson) during the first one, simply because the room I was checking badges for had no one in it. He pulled up a chair, introduced himself and we talked for at least two hours about animation in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, we had a small group of folks gathered around, just listening to our conversation.

I am sure that some of the folks at Pantheacon have had similar moments. I know I did. My first and third years, I shared a room and a trip with John Beckett. John presented both of those years, both with the convention and in the hospitality suites. The second year; however, I went alone. I spent a lot of time in the OBOD suite talking with Frank M. and with Kristoffer Hughes. A presentation of Kristoffer’s that I attended, I saw again three weeks later at the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. It was just as interesting, entertaining and informative as when I had heard him at Pantheacon. That second year, being on my own, I explored more panels and visited the hospitality suites more often than the first year. And I could never forget the lovely singing of Byron Ballard to begin one of the panels on death that year.

Were there controversies? Were there issues? over the years, it has certainly been documented. During the three years that I went, I never really saw or experienced anything that would be considered controversial. But then, I tend to run in very small circles when I attend events like this. So, most of that may have been outside of my senses. But I also do not go to public events seeking to be controversial either. I am just me…just as I am anywhere else. I am not sure how controversial I may be considered. I tend to get the feeling that I am considered to be rather milquetoast, even for a Pagan, Druid, and/or Polytheist.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

There are a few folks that see this as the possible beginning of the end of large social gatherings for the Pagan community, particularly in the arena of conventions. Maybe. There are a few other conventions that are Pagan-oriented around the country. People that are interested in this type of setting can certainly find those fairly easily. But I certainly would not call the end of Pantheacon the end of such a setting or even the end of a large convention setting. Its the end of Pantheacon. Certainly traveling to conventions is expensive. The flight/drive, the hotel, the food, all the other expenses – that shit adds up quickly. But if this is your kind of thing, there are other spots to attend. And let’s not over-play Pantheacon as some massive monolith that just cannot be replaced or created again elsewhere. Because that is just not true.

So, what to do next? Well, if you can afford to make it to Pantheacon in 2020, I would suggest you go. In my estimation its a wonderful experience to have. If you can’t make it, see what’s near you and make plans to be there – whether that is a convention or festival or a gathering…whatever. All of that is part of your wider community. Reach out, meet new people, engage with old friends…have experiences! It does not have to be “just like” Pantheacon…does it?? I don’t think so, but that’s just my perspective. Your experience will definitely vary because we are all unique. But seriously, reach out, find new places to explore…

As for the folks who have helped put Pantheacon on for these many years, I say thank you. Certainly, there were rough times, but the wonderful experiences throughout it all would hopefully outweigh all of that, especially over the number of years the convention has existed. I, as a three-year attendee, am grateful for all that you have done.

JOEO

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